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How COVID-19 has Made the Charleston Loophole Even Deadlier for Women: Everytown, Moms Demand Action Release New Factsheet, File FOIA Requests Demanding Information

April 17, 2020

Historic Increase in Gun Sales and Reduced NICS Capacity During the COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Potentially Deadly Background Check Delays and Increased Risks of Domestic Violence

NEW YORK — There has been a historic increase in background checks during the pandemic, with March 2020 setting the all-time record for the number of background checks run in a single month. This increased volume and delays in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) create concerns about the Charleston loophole––a gap in federal law (named after the loophole the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooter exploited to acquire his firearm) that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check has not been completed within three business days. 

Today, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund and Moms Demand Action, a part of Everytown, released a factsheet underlining the increased dangers of the Charleston loophole during the pandemic and filed two FOIA requests: one requesting NICS data from 2000 to 2019, and another requesting NICS data specifically from January to March 2019 and January to March 2020. The fact sheet and FOIA requests underline key concerns at a time when there is already increased risk of domestic violence due to the pandemic. 

“The historic surge of gun sales nationwide during this pandemic creates a dangerous situation: an overwhelmed background check system with a gaping loophole, and more domestic abusers at home with their victims and easy access to guns” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “We need our elected leaders to step up and save lives.”

The factsheet, which can be read in full here, includes new, critical information about how the surge in gun sales could put guns in the hands of convicted domestic abusers: 

  • “According to FBI data, March 2020 set the all-time record for the number of…. NICS background checks since the creation of the system over 20 years ago.”
  • “While most background checks are completed on the spot, typically 10 percent of all federal checks—1.2 million of the 3.7 million in March—require additional time and 3 percent are delayed longer than three days. That translates to at least 35,000 potential ‘default proceeds’ during the March gun-buying frenzy alone.”
  • “Background checks that take longer than 3 days are 4 [times] more likely to result in a denial.”
  • “At least 523 [guns] were transferred to prohibited persons and, of those, close to a quarter went to prohibited domestic abusers. Given constrained government resources in a state of emergency, these figures are likely much higher.”

The FOIA requests, which can be found here and here, request NICS data from the past 20 years that could be critical in understanding the challenges we face today. That information includes, but is not limited to, the number of federal NICS transactions that received an immediate response; were delayed but resolved within three business days; remained delayed past three days; and were purged unresolved at 90 days. The data on background checks that were purged unresolved would provide key information about the hundreds of thousands of delayed background checks that are deleted each year before they are ever completed. 

In addition to reports of increased risk of domestic violence across America right now, research from the 2008 financial crisis shows a link between financial hardship and domestic violence. Nationwide, gun stores are reporting dramatic increases in sales. Access to a firearm makes it five times more likely that an abuser will kill his victim. 

Everytown and Moms Demand Action have also released guidance detailing ways that governors can reduce the risks of unintentional shootings, domestic violence, and gun suicides. And at the beginning of the month, John Feinblatt, Shannon Watts, and Ruth Glenn, the CEO of the National Coalition Against Gun Violence, hosted a press call on the Trump administration’s advisory deeming gun stores as essential as cops, hospital workers, and first responders. 

The House of Representatives has already passed bipartisan legislation, led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), to address the deadly Charleston loophole, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has failed to even bring the bill to the floor for a vote. 

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