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Vermont Moms Demand Action: Governor Scott Should Consider Extending Background Checks Window to Reduce Gun Violence Risks Amid Increased Gun Sales During Coronavirus Crisis

April 3, 2020

In Vermont, There Were Over 73 Percent More Background Checks Completed in March 2020 Than in March 2019

Everytown Releases List of Actions Governors Can Take Amid Concerns Over Unintentional Shootings, Domestic Violence Shootings, Gun Suicides 

Agencies Currently Seeing Increases in Background Checks That Remain Incomplete After 3 Days; Newly Released NICS Data Shows More Background Checks Done After Trump’s State of Emergency Declaration Than After Shooting at Sandy Hook School

MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Vermont chapter of  Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, today released the following statement after Everytown and Moms Demand Action released guidance detailing ways that governors across the country can reduce the risks of unintentional shootings, domestic violence, community violence, and gun suicides as gun sales spike and Americans self-quarantine at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and first responders are stretched thin as it is, and they shouldn’t have to worry about more guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” said Seton McIlroy, a volunteer with the Vermont chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Governor Scott should do everything he can to make sure that especially in these uncertain times, law enforcement has time to complete a background check before every single gun sale in Vermont.”

The recommendations released Thursday include giving law enforcement the time they need to complete background checks, addressing the so-called Charleston loophole in federal law that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check has not been completed within three business days. 

New data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) shows there were over 3.7 million background checks in March 2020, 41 percent higher than in March 2019. In Vermont, over 7,000 background checks were completed this March, a 73 percent increase from last March. A risk with the historic number of background checks is that law enforcement will not have enough time to complete each background check and a firearm will be transferred to someone who is later found to be prohibited.

“As America’s governors move heaven and earth to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 victims, they shouldn’t have to worry about how many of those beds will be taken by gunshot victims,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “So as gun sales surge, we’re urging governors to extend the background check window and give law enforcement the time they need to complete each and every background check.”

“We need leaders to recognize – and address – the real risks posed by the recent spike in gun sales,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Responsible gun owners support common-sense steps to keep guns away from people who pose a risk to themselves or others, including background checks on all gun sales and secure gun storage. And governors should follow the lead of Gov. Raimondo and address the increased risk of gun violence during the coronavirus crisis by ensuring law enforcement has enough time to complete background checks on gun sales.”

As detailed in the guidance, to help address the risks posed by spikes in gun sales while Americans are hunkered down at home, governors can:

  • Address the Charleston loophole by giving law enforcement enough time to complete background checks;
  • Educate the public and first-time gun buyers about the risks that come with gun ownership;
  • Promote the secure storage of firearms;
  • Address the increased risk of suicide by ensuring extreme risk protection orders are designated as “essential” court services;
  • Protect families by ensuring domestic violence restraining orders can be sought and issued and providing continuity of services to victims;
  • Ensure essential community gun violence intervention programs can continue to work and give them the critical support they need; and
  • Prevent criminals from obtaining the parts to build Ghost Guns.

Under federal law, a federally licensed firearms dealer may transfer a firearm to the purchaser if the NICS check has not been completed within three business days — a procedural loophole known as the “Charleston Loophole,” named after the loophole the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooter used to acquire his firearm. While the vast majority of background checks are completed on the spot, approximately 10 percent take longer than three business days. And a delayed background check is a strong indication that the potential buyer may ultimately turn out to be prohibited from having guns. An analysis of the past five years of NICS data shows that background checks completed after the three business day period are four times more likely to result in a denial than checks completed within three business days.

From 2006 to 2015, 30 percent of gun sale denials by licensed dealers to buyers convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse took longer than three business days. That means licensed dealers were legally authorized under federal law to transfer guns to 18,000 people who were prohibited domestic violence misdemeanants simply because their background checks took longer than three days.

Before this year’s legislative session was temporarily adjourned, lawmakers were considering H. 610, legislation that would close the Charleston loophole in Vermont’s background check system that allows licensed dealers to sell a gun after three business days even if a background check has not been completed. 

Read the full guidance here.

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