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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

8 hours ago - World

Biden seeks to reboot U.S. sanctions policy

Sanctions increased under Obama and dramatically under Trump. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

The Biden administration is rethinking the U.S. approach to sanctions after four years of Donald Trump imposing and escalating them.

The big picture: Sanctions are among the most powerful tools the U.S. has to influence its adversaries’ behavior without using force. But they frequently fail to bring down regimes or moderate their behavior, and they can increase the suffering of civilians and resentment of the U.S.

8 hours ago - World

Merkel's farewell spoiled by Poland crisis at EU summit

One last awkward EU "family photo." Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

Angela Merkel took up her vaunted mantle as Europe's crisis manager for what could be the last time tonight, as she urged the EU to find compromise in its showdown with Poland.

Why it matters: The European Commission has threatened to withhold over $40 billion in pandemic recovery funds after Poland's constitutional tribunal — stacked with loyalists from the ruling right-wing populist party — rejected the principle that EU law has primacy over national law.

Republicans who put it all on the line

Rep. Nancy Mace speaks with reporters after voting to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

A small contingent of House Republicans risked their political futures on Thursday, they say, in the name of constitutional responsibility.

Why it matters: The nine Republicans who voted to hold former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress are now in peril of becoming political pariahs. They've opened themselves up to potential primary challengers and public attacks from their party's kingmaker — former President Trump.