WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), along with nine of his colleagues, urged Senate leadership to provide robust funding for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in future coronavirus relief packages to ensure the continued processing of background checks and to uphold gun safety laws.
Despite efforts by Senator Van Hollen and others to change this loophole and strengthen gun safety measures, federal law currently allows a gun sale to proceed if a background check is delayed by more than 3 days – meaning federally prohibited individuals could potentially purchase a firearm due to a delayed background check.
“With the onset of the coronavirus quarantine, an estimated 5.9 million firearms were sold in the US between March and May 2020 —an 80 percent increase over the same time last year… We must ensure that the background check system is not overwhelmed and that federally prohibited persons do not obtain access to firearms,” the Senators write.
The Senators underscore how delayed background checks pose a hazard to public safety, noting, “If sales are allowed to proceed without a completed background check due to backlogs in the NICS system, potentially dangerous individuals who are federally prohibited from owning weapons may be able to purchase firearms.
Five years ago, we saw the horrific results of a prohibited purchaser obtaining a gun through a default proceed sale when Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine African-American worshippers at Emanuel AME Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Based on FBI data, nearly 9,000 people who cannot legally own a gun, such as domestic abusers and felons, were able to acquire a firearm between 2017 and 2018 because their background checks took more than three days.”
They go on to highlight the urgency of necessary funding, stating, “In many cities, gun violence has remained consistent or elevated in comparison to other violent crime or even increased despite stay-at-home orders. There are also reports that domestic violence incidents have increased during this pandemic. Ensuring that prohibited individuals are not armed must be a top priority for law enforcement; given the limited number of ATF agents to retrieve firearms, additional resources are needed to ensure this happens.”
“Every background check that has been delayed due to this surge needs to be completed, and every gun mistakenly sold to a prohibited person must be retrieved. We should suspend the FBI regulation so that all background checks during the surge will be completed,” the Senators write. “Keeping guns out of the hands of individuals who should not have them will help strengthen public safety and save lives.”
Regarding the letter, David Chipman, Giffords Senior Policy Advisor & Former ATF Special Agent, said, “While gun manufacturers celebrate profits stemming from the pandemic-induced spike in gun sales, this surge has overburdened the federal agents who ensure our background check system prevents individuals who shouldn’t have a firearm from buying one. The recent anniversary of the tragic shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston reminds us of the awful consequences when background checks aren’t processed timely or accurately. If we are serious about upholding public safety, FBI and ATF must have the resources to thoroughly conduct and enforce background checks that keep guns out of dangerous hands.”
“In the five years since nine Black Americans were murdered by a white supremacist at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, an estimated 1.4 million potential gun sales have fallen through the exact same loophole that allowed the shooter to buy a firearm without a completed background check. Congress should close the loophole, but in the meantime, the very least they can do is provide the FBI and the ATF with the resources they need to complete every life-saving check in the mandated three days,” said John Feinblatt, President of Everytown for Gun Safety.