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Gun Regulation Advocates Fear More Guns Sold To 'Prohibited' Purchasers

Potential gun buyers at a gun show. A surge in gun sales in recent months has also resulted in a backlog of background checks.
Potential gun buyers at a gun show. A surge in gun sales in recent months has also resulted in a backlog of background checks.

Firearms sales have surged this year. That has led to a corresponding backlog of background checks, which gun regulation advocates worry will lead to more prohibited purchases.

The data are clear. From March through August, the Federal Bureau of Investigation completed more than 20 million background checks through its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Every single one of those months set a new all-time monthly record. Industry analysts and experts say sales have spiked for a variety of reasons, including the pandemic and social unrest in a contentious presidential election year.

The FBI runs background checks on most gun purchases. Most take only a few minutes, but some are flagged for further review. The FBI then has three days to complete the check. If it takes longer than that, the purchase may go through by default, sometimes called the “ Charleston loophole.

The surge in purchases has led to a simultaneous increase in background checks that miss the three-day window. Because of that, gun regulation advocates at Everytown for Gun Safety estimate that nearly 4,000 firearms could have been sold to purchasers that would have been denied.

A freedom of information act request by Everytown indeed shows an increase in checks missing the three-day window. From April to July, about 218,000 checks took longer than three business days. That’s more than three times the number that were delayed three days in the same months in 2019.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, the [Department of Justice] warned President Trump that the background check system was going to be overwhelmed –– but rather than addressing it, Trump added fuel to the fire by making it even easier to buy guns,” said Rob Wilcox, deputy director of policy and strategy at Everytown for Gun Safety in a statement. “Now, this FOIA confirms that the worst has happened: thousands of guns have likely fallen into the wrong hands due the Charleston loophole, and there’s no end in sight.”

But Mark Oliver with the National Shooting Sports Foundation says just because a check takes longer than three days doesn’t necessarily mean the sale is completed. He says firearms dealers can still use caution and deny a sale pending the completed check.

“If they don’t feel comfortable with that sale, then they should certainly exercise due diligence and all precaution on whether or not to make the decision to complete that sale,” he said. “These retailers, they live and they work in these communities. They don’t want to see a gun in the wrong hands of a person any more than you or I do.”

Oliver added that his association has asked Congress to increase funding for the NICS program. “Because we know the system is stressed. Especially at times like this,” he said. “We are talking about a fundamental American right here. If you’re going to delay somebody’s rights, you have to be able to have a good reason for why you are delaying that right.”

is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2020 Guns and America. To see more, visit .