Guns on display at a store in Manassas, Virginia. Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty

The FBI processed a record 3.7 million gun background checks in March — more than any month previously reported, according to the agency's latest data.

Driving the news: The spike's timing suggests it may be driven at least in part by the coronavirus outbreak.

  • The Trump administration this week deemed gun shops "essential" businesses, allowing them to continue selling firearms to customers old and new even as other stores close their doors.
  • Five of the top 10 days with the highest number of background checks occurred last month, since the start of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System in 1998.
  • March was the second-busiest month ever for gun sales — trailing only January 2013, just after President Obama’s re-election and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the NY Times reports.

Why it matters: Mass social uncertainty often leads to an increase in gun buying, David Yamane, a Wake Forest sociology professor who has studied gun culture, told Axios.

The big picture: Spikes in firearm and ammunition purchases and first-time gun buyers already have been reported in areas severely impacted by COVID-19, such as in Washington state, California and New York.

  • "In addition to the usual suspects who are adding to what they already own, there has been a sort of different profile of people coming in" to gun shops, Yamane said. "In this instance, people who are first-time gun owners or don't fit the traditional demographic of older, white male."
  • The latest installment of the Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index also indicated rises in purchases of guns and ammunition, although the sample size was relatively small.

What they're saying: In a video tweeted by the NRA on March 21, an activist warns, "You might be stockpiling up on food right now" but "if you aren’t preparing to defend your property when everything goes wrong, you’re really just stockpiling for somebody else."

  • Gun control groups decried Trump's move keeping gun shops open, with Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt saying "you can't shoot a virus."

Go deeper

Roger Marshall wins Republican Senate nomination in Kansas primary

Rep. Roger Marshall. Photo: Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Rep. Roger Marshall won the Kansas Republican Senate primary on Tuesday evening, beating former Secretary of State Kris Kobach and a slew of other candidates, AP reports.

Why it matters: Following GOP Sen. Pat Roberts' retirement announcement, some Republicans worry that if Kobach won the primary it would endanger the party's chances of keeping the seat and maintaining a majority in the Senate.

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Primary races to watch in Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington

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Primary elections on Tuesday in fives states see crowded fields of both Republicans and Democrats hoping to make the ballot in 2020.

What to watch: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) is "fighting for her political life" in a tight primary race against Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, who Tlaib beat by 900 votes in 2018, The New York Times writes. Senate Republicans are also watching the primary race in Kansas to see who could replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 18,448,084 — Total deaths: 698,023 — Total recoveries — 11,048,174Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 4,765,170 — Total deaths: 156,668 — Total recoveries: 1,528,979 — Total tests: 57,543,852Map.
  3. States: New York City health commissioner resigns in protest of De Blasio's coronavirus response — Local governments go to war over schools.
  4. Public health: 59% of Americans support nationwide 2-week stay-at-home order in NPR poll.
  5. Politics: Trump's national security adviser returns to work after coronavirus recovery Republicans push to expand small business loan program.
  6. Sports: Indy 500 to be held without fansRafael Nadal opts out of U.S. Open.