WASHINGTON – Firearms sales and federal background shopping rose to an all-time high in March as the coronavirus pandemic spawned record numbers of buyers, although arms dealerships included orders to close companies in some states.
The FBI conducted 3.7 million background checks last month. According to the latest figures, this is the highest total since the introduction of the national instant verification system for buyers in 1998 and 1.1 million higher than in March 2019.
The period from March 17th to 21st was a particularly busy time for the background check system. More than 210,000 checks were carried out on March 21 alone, the record for a single day.
The March figure also surpassed the previous high of 3.3 million in December 2015 after the Obama administration raised the prospect of restricting its weapons of attack after the mass shootings in San Bernardino, California.
Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, a consultancy that tracks the arms market, said that inquiries to the background inspection system in March resulted in nearly 2.6 million weapons sold. The share of pistol sales was the highest ever, with almost twice as many sold as rifles and shotguns.
“We saw an absolutely huge boost in the sale of small arms,” said Jürgen Brauer, chief economist of the company. “They vary from state to state, but an unprecedented boost in the purchase of small arms for the entire nation.”
Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, said the pandemic worried many Americans that they could not rely on the police to protect them.
“People are concerned that law enforcement is underutilized and only responds to selected calls,” he said. “They realize that it is up to them to defend themselves and their families when bad things happen.”
An industry representative who did not want to be named, said arms dealers report that many of the sales were made to first-time buyers in March. A dealer in New York, who saw the rise before a nationwide order to close, said she had many more customers than usual.
Some cities and states tried to involve arms dealers in ordering local companies to shut down during the pandemic. In response to lobbying by gun rights groups, the Department of Homeland Security added firearms-related personnel to the essential labor list, which is only advisory.
Some states, including New York, Massachusetts, and New Mexico, still chose to close arms stores, although some dealers continued to sell online. In Washington State, Governor Jay Inslee removed arms dealers from the list of major companies, but some dealers remained open. Closing orders elsewhere have led to a series of lawsuits arguing that their closure violates the second amendment.
Weapons control groups have supported the orders to close. “There is no constitutional right to buy or sell weapons immediately, and there is certainly no right to spread coronavirus when buying or selling weapons,” said Kris Brown of the Brady campaign.