On Friday, the FBI received 203,086 requests for instant gun background checks, according to USA Today — nearly a 10 percent increase from the year before and a new record for background checks in a single day.
That’s not an anomaly. According to the FBI, the previous two records for background checks were also set on the day after the federal holiday in which Americans give thanks for the year’s blessings.
The FBI didn’t provide any analysis behind the spike, but the biggest shopping day of the year may come at a moment of worry for people who fear someone from the government may knock on their door someday and confiscate their guns.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed the FBI and ATF to look at potential problems in the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (NICS).
Sessions wants the agencies to fix problems with how the military and other federal entities report convictions that could keep someone from having a gun.
The database “is critically important to protecting the American public from firearms related violence,” Sessions wrote in his memo. “It is, however, only as reliable and robust as the information that federal, state, local and tribal government entities make available to it.”
The directive comes after the Air Force conceded it had never submitted the domestic-abuse conviction of Devin P. Kelley to the NICS database. Kelley purchased a Ruger AR-556 rifle with a 30-round magazine and used it to mow down a church full of parishioners in Sutherland Springs, Tex., earlier this month. It was the largest mass shooting in Texas history.
And a month before that, a man using a “bump stock” to make his rifles fire at a much faster rate killed 58 people and injured hundreds more in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas sheriff said Stephen Paddock fired more than 1,100 rounds, according to the Associated Press. Investigators found 4,000 unused rounds in his hotel suite.
Gun-safety advocates routinely push for greater restrictions on gun purchases after such shootings.
“As my colleagues go to sleep tonight, they need to think about whether the political support of the gun industry is worth the blood that flows endlessly onto the floors of American churches, elementary schools, movie theaters and city streets,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, said after the Texas shooting.
And gun-rights advocates routinely take equally strong stances on the other side of the issue.
After the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left six educators and 20 children dead, the National Rifle Association described then-President Barack Obama’s gun-violence-reduction proposals as an effort to ban millions of guns.
“The main goal of the gun banners in Congress is not to make schools safer, but to ban your guns and abolish every last sacred right you have under the Second Amendment . . . until they reduce your freedom to ashes,” the NRA said in an alert.
But consumers with strong opinions on guns don’t have to wait for the debate to play out. They can just take their wallets to gun stores — and routinely after mass shootings, they do.
As The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz and Peter Finn reported, the United States experienced “a record run on military-style assault weapons” in 2013, especially in the months after the Newtown shootings.
But this year, one mass shooting was different. Even the NRA said there should be additional regulations on devices like Paddock’s bump stocks. Investigators should “identify any additional measures that should be taken to prevent firearms from being obtained by prohibited persons” the association’s memo says.
Meanwhile, it appears the FBI will have to figure out how to deal with the onslaught of background checks.
According to USA Today, the agency has “struggled to keep pace with the volume of firearm transactions and still properly maintain the databases of criminal and mental health records necessary to determine whether buyers are eligible to purchase guns.”
Last year, when it processed some 27.5 million background checks, it had to bring in personnel from other units.