The FBI reported a 41% surge in background checks, totaling 3.7 million, the greatest number of background checks conducted in a single month since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was launched in 1998.
The FBI also noted that the number represented only background checks initiated, not the total number of firearms sold. Additionally, the numbers did not include the sale of firearms to buyers licensed by their respective states to carry handguns since those purchases may not require an FBI check.
All buyers purchasing firearms from FFL dealers must complete a Form 4473 on paper or computer that records data for the check. The buyer must present valid government-issued identification showing their picture and current residence address. A combination of official documents may be used to validate the address.
In addition to providing identifying information, the buyer must answer 13 questions about their background. The questions are written in government legal language and can be tricky to answer, even for a native English speaker. For example, the first question is:
Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form? Warning: You are not the actual transferee/buyer if you are acquiring the firearm(s) on behalf of another person. If you are not the actual transferee/buyer, the licensee cannot transfer the firearm(s) to you. Exception: If you are picking up a repaired firearm(s) for another person, you are not required to answer 11.a. and may proceed to question 11.b. (See Instructions for Question 11.a.)
The FFL dealer may not help the buyer answer the questions and must deny the sale if any question is not answered correctly.
If the buyer answers all questions correctly -- and does not hold a state handgun license that serves in lieu of a check -- the dealer submits the form information to the FBI.
The NICS check then returns a response of "proceed," "delay" or "deny." A "proceed" may be given within minutes while a longer wait may result in a "delay."
And, as the total number of checks has increased, so have the total number of "delay" responses, frustrating buyers who may wait days or weeks for a "proceed." If NICS does not issue a "proceed" or "deny" within 30 days, the background check is cancelled.
FFL dealers have the option of transferring firearms if they do not receive an updated response within three business days. But many dealers wait for a "proceed." And, citing a backlog of pending checks, NICS may push that three-day period out to two weeks.
Although the federal government does not track repeat purchasers, anecdotal evidence shows many of the checks are for first-time gun buyers anxious about the possible breakdown of law and order during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Such buyers may not have received firearms handling and safety training -- or may not be able to obtain training while complying with stay-at-home orders.
We encourage new gun owners to carefully read the firearm manual before loading the weapon and to store it securely when it is not in use. Federal law requires all handguns to be sold with a locking device and accompanied by a copy of the Youth Handgun Safety Act pamphlet that advises:
Safely storing and securing firearms away from children will help prevent the unlawful possession of handguns by juveniles, stop accidents, and save lives.
Please, Dear Readers, be safe and smart.
Good health and good luck,
- Dr. Gatling