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Background Checks

Busiest March on Record for FBI Background Checks

The FBI performed more than 2.5 million of them.

The FBI processed more background checks for gun transactions last month than any other March on record, correlating with a surge in gun sales fueled by fears of mass shootings, terrorism, and the prospect — real or imagined — of stricter firearm laws.

More than 2.5 million checks were reviewed in March by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to figures released Monday, an uptick from the 2.48 million checks performed in March 2014. The figure is slightly lower than the number of checks performed by the agency in January or February, but continues an 11-month streak of single-month records.

It’s not clear what specifically sparked the surge, though a series of high-profile incidents throughout 2015 served to drive people to gun dealers. In June, nine people were gunned down in a Charleston, South Carolina, church by a white suprematist. In November, terrorists killed 130 in shocking attacks in Paris. And in December, 14 people died in a terrorist-linked incident in San Bernardino, California.

In late November, the FBI announced that Black Friday surpassed its single-day background check record with 185,345 processed in a 24-hour period, or slightly more than two background checks every second.

The most prominent recent mass shooting occurred in March, when a pair of gunmen assaulted a house party in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, killing five people, including a pregnant woman, and injuring three.

The number of background checks processed by the FBI is the best available measure of total gun sales, but it remains an imperfect metric. A NICS background check represents a single transaction, not the number of guns sold in each sale. The totals also exclude an unknown quantity of private gun sales, which in 32 states aren’t subject to background checks. And the state of Kentucky adds several thousand additional checks to the FBI’s tally: Police there run fresh background checks on concealed-weapon license holders every month.

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