Good morning, Bulletin readers. The gun-buying wave is undeniable. Today, we look at two of its potential ramifications — for an under-resourced background check system, and for the legal debate about limits to gun rights.
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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY
Senators to feds: Gun-buying surge could allow prohibited purchasers to slip through the cracks. Via a letter to the FBI director and acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives obtained by Newsweek, 16 Democratic lawmakers are pressing for measures to ensure that firearms aren’t sold to people banned from owning them because of background check loopholes and an overtaxed vetting system. Though licensed dealers can legally sell guns to buyers whose checks take longer than three business days to resolve (a transaction known as a default proceed), the senators say the bureaus should advise gun dealers not to complete any sales until the purchaser is cleared while the pandemic is raging. They’re also requesting data on how many guns have been sold with background checks still pending during the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. ICYMI: The FBI conducted 3.7 million gun background checks in March, a new single-month record.
NEW from THE TRACE: Gun store closures put states in “uncharted” legal territory. Stay-at-home orders have forced thousands of businesses to close, but extending that to the firearm industry has proven contentious. Gun rights advocates have challenged gun store closures in several states, and their lawsuits raise a mountain of thorny legal issues that courts have seldom debated. “We’re in uncharted legal territory,” said one of the gun law scholars whom Brian Freskos interviewed. “There are some doctrinal guideposts, but not a whole lot of precedent that is directly on point.” This just in: The National Rifle Association is suing New York State over its decision to subject gun stores to the state’s infection-abatement policies, adding to the group’s existing suit against California. “We will aggressively defend the state against yet another legal assault by the NRA,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Some gun dealers are defying orders to cease operations. There are five states still ordering gun stores to stay closed. But The Trace has spotted several examples of sellers in at least three of them — New Mexico, Massachusetts, and Washington — who are refusing to comply. “I don’t know anything about what the governor has said,” one recalcitrant owner told The Seattle Times.
A panicked purchase — then an accidental shooting. A 35-year-old Michigan man admitted to accidentally shooting himself in the leg after reportedly buying a gun in anticipation of pandemic-related chaos. Don’t miss: As coronavirus fears buoyed gun sales among first-time buyers, Trace reporter, gun-owner, and former military veteran Alain Stephens prepared this primer on safe firearm handling.
Anti-violence advocates offer phone counseling to kids scarred by shootings. The TraRon Center, which offers trauma support to families in Washington D.C., currently can’t host people at its community center because of social distancing. Instead, it’s arranging video chats with neighborhood young people. “Crime is still happening around them,” the group’s founder told WUSA9. “They’re trying to deal with this new norm, and they just need somebody to talk to.”
An estimated 1,534,000 handguns were sold in America last month, compared to nearly 836,000 long guns, the most lopsided ratio since the federal gun background check system launched in 1998. As The Trace has reported, the firearms industry was for a long time dominated by rifles and shotguns used for hunting or sport shooting, until manufacturers began aggressively marketing handguns for self-defense. — Small Arms Analytics