Apr 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

FBI sees record number of gun background checks amid coronavirus

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

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans Tuesday to make wearing face coverings mandatory statewide for most people over the age of 10 when inside public places. The measure is effective Friday and applies to places like retailers, on public transportation and government buildings.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from the novel coronavirus and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

The polarized pandemic election

A Trump supporter protests Pennsylvania's stay-at-home order, during a May 15 rally outside the Capitol in Harrisburg. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump is going all-in on pushing for a rapid, robust return to normal life, creating a visual, visceral contrast with Joe Biden and other Democrats who are more reticent to rip the masks off.

The state of play: Business friends have been urging Trump from the beginning to keep the lockdowns short. He's listening more and more.

The EU makes its move on a green coronavirus recovery

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The European Commission this morning proposed a $825 billion package of economic responses to the coronavirus pandemic that includes financing for renewable energy, electric vehicle charging and other emissions-friendly projects.

Why it matters: The energy components of the "Next Generation EU" plan, part of a wider multi-year budget proposal, appear to be the most substantial attempt yet to stitch low-carbon investments into economic recovery plans.