Spiking U.S. gun sales deluge FBI's background check system, cause delays

(Reuters) - A surge in people buying guns since the coronavirus pandemic began has flooded the FBI’s background check system, causing a spike in the number of delayed checks and allowing gun sales to proceed without them, FBI data disclosed on Tuesday showed.

FILE PHOTO: A member of the U.S. Congress wears a "Background Checks Save Lives" sticker during a news conference announcing the introduction of "bipartisan legislation to expand background checks for sales and transfers of firearms" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety obtained FBI data through a Freedom of Information Act request.

There has been a 54% increase in the number of background checks that were delayed past three days in the March through July period, as compared with the same time last year, the data shows.

More than 5% of the 5.86 million background checks conducted during those months this year were delayed past three business days, it showed.

More Americans are trying to buy guns than ever, according to FBI data. The bureau conducted 93% more background checks in that March through July period this year as compared with the same period the previous year, when it conducted 3.03 million checks.

Background checks may have become more difficult to complete as state law enforcement and other government agencies housing records may have been closed or slower in replying to FBI requests because of the pandemic’s impact on staffing, said Rob Wilcox, deputy director of policy at Everytown.

If an FBI background check takes longer than three business days, a gun dealer can sell the firearm to a buyer, under current regulations.

That worries groups like Everytown because it means thousands of people prohibited by law from owning guns - such as most convicted felons - may have obtained them as the FBI background check was delayed.

“They should have allocated the people and resources needed to conduct these background checks,” said Wilcox.

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. When asked in April about the spike in background checks caused by increased gun sales, the FBI said its system was “operational and will continue to process requests.”

U.S. gun sales have soared this year, sparked by fears of social unrest because of the pandemic, violence seen on the streets of American cities during protests for racial justice, and the turbulence over the presidential election.

Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Timothy Gardner