The number of people who were stopped from buying guns through the U.S. background check system has hit a record high of more than 300,000 in the last year amid a massive surge in gun sales, according to records obtained by Everytown for Gun Safety.
FBI numbers provided to The Associated Press show that background checks blocked almost twice as many guns sales in 2020 as they did in the previous year, with about 42% of refusals being because the would-be buyer had felony convictions on their records. The data shows that the rate of potential owners being barred has also risen from around 0.6% to 0.8%. The surge in firearm sales could be partly to do with this rise, as many purchasers “may have a felony conviction on their record and not think about it,” according to Adam Winkler, a UCLA Law professor specialising in gun policy.
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Winkler also noted that making a false statement in connection with a background check is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a large fine. However few people are ever prosecuted, in 2017 just 12 out of the 112,000 people denied a gun purchase were federally prosecuted, that’s 0.01% of the total. This minuscule prosecution rate is largely because the resources needed for these time-consuming investigations are limited according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The research conducted by Everytown also found that 16% of would-be buyers in 2020 were stopped by state laws, such as extreme risk protection orders or red flag laws. Another 12% were related to domestic violence, people subjected to a protective order or convicted of a misdemeanour domestic violent crime. Everytown’s director of research, Sarah Burd-Sharps says the data shows just how necessary these laws are: “There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitions from being able to buy firearms.”
She goes on to say that “The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time.” On the other side of the coin you have gun rights groups pushing back, with Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, arguing that the increase in denials could be due to states updating their records on restricted people. “A day doesn’t go by that our office doesn’t get complaint calls from people who’ve been denied wrongly,” he said.
All this comes after Congress failed to pass major gun legislation being pushed by Democrats and President Joe Biden. In March the House passed the legislation which would require checks on all sales and transfers, alongside an extended 10 day review period for gun purchases. Currently the bill is stalled in the equally divided Senate with little chance of approval.