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The FBI ran more than 3.7 million background checks on Americans buying guns under the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in March, smashing the previous record as Americans armed themselves amid growing fears about the coronavirus pandemic.
The NICS system ran 3,740,688 background checks in March, which is 33 percent higher than the previous record of more than 2.8 million, which was set in February. The February numbers were a 34 percent uptick from the same time in 2019. The NICS system has not run fewer than 2 million background checks in one month since September 2018.
Previous reports noted a large spike in sales of guns and ammo as the coronavirus pandemic quickly rose to the top of Americans’ consciousness last month. March’s background check numbers marked a 41 percent increase over March 2019.
Not all gun sales involve a background check, meaning that the NICS numbers are not a direct indicator of total gun sales.
But the FBI numbers released Wednesday underscore the rise in demand for guns since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to widespread closures of businesses, government-issued stay-at-home orders and killed more than 5,000 Americans — with the White House predicting an eventual death toll of between 100,000 and 240,000.
Brady United, a gun control group, has spoken out against the increase in gun sales and a number of state governments that have declared gun retailers to be “essential” businesses that can remain open despite orders closing most other businesses that do not provide essential goods like food or medicine. It blames pro-gun and pro-Second Amendment organizations for causing Americans to panic about the virus as a way to drive up gun sales.
“As a result of fears stoked by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun-industry groups, we saw more federal background checks initiated in Marcy 2020 than any other on record,” Brady President Kris Brown said in a statement. “This boon for gun industry profits is a threat to public safety and is even more troubling given the Trump Administration’s recent guidance that gun stores should be designated ‘essential’ and remain open during this crisis.”
The NRA has defended both the ability of gun stories to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic and Americans’ rush to buy guns as they fear how long government-mandated stay-at-home orders and shutdowns of businesses will last, and just how bad the pandemic will get. It’s even filed a lawsuit against California over a policy of allowing local law enforcement to determine whether gun shops are “essential,” alleging that allowing such closures is an impermissible violation of the Second Amendment.
“Nothing is more important than the ability to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially during uncertain times,” Amy Hunter, the NRA’s director of public relations, told Fox News. “The NRA remains vigilant as anti-gun lawmakers attempt to exploit the pandemic to pursue gun control. We will take any action necessary to ensure the American people can defend their families.”
Fox News’ Hollie McKay contributed to this report.