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United States

Bang for their buck: on Black Friday, 200,000 applied to buy guns in US, setting a new record

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 2:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 9:44pm

The FBI was flooded Friday with more than 200,000 background check requests for gun purchases, setting a new single day record, the bureau reported Saturday.

In all, the FBI fielded 203,086 requests on Black Friday, up from the previous single-day highs of 185,713 last year and 185,345 in 2015. The two previous records also were recorded on Black Friday.

Gun checks, required for purchases at federally licensed firearm dealers, are not a measure of actual gun sales. The number of firearms sold Friday is likely higher because multiple firearms can be included in one transaction by a single buyer.

The surging numbers received by the bureau’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), comes just days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a sweeping review of the system, which allowed a court-martialed Air Force veteran to purchase the rifle used earlier this month to kill 25 people inside a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church.

The victims included a pregnant woman whose unborn child also died in the November 5 massacre.

Following the shooting, the Air Force acknowledged it had not provided the FBI with details of the court martial, which likely would have blocked the 2016 sale of the murder weapon to Devin Kelley.

In a memo issued Wednesday, Sessions ordered the FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to review the NICS system.

The breakdown in the Kelley case highlighted long-standing problems within the system, which for more than 20 years has served as the centrepiece of the government’s effort to block criminals from obtaining firearms. Yet it has largely struggled to keep pace with the volume of firearm transactions and still properly maintain the databases of criminal and mental health records necessary to determine whether buyers are eligible to purchase guns.

Last year, the FBI official overseeing NICS was forced to transfer personnel from construction projects and units that oversee the gathering of crime statistics to keep up with the surge of requests for background checks. The office processed a record 27.5 million background checks in 2016.

Stephen Morris, a former assistant FBI director, said after the shooting that the NICS system has long been plagued by incomplete or outdated information.

In many cases, a background check may show a record of arrest, but there is no additional information to indicate whether the case was dismissed or resulted in a felony conviction which would prohibit a gun purchase.

The mere record of arrest is not enough to prohibit a gun sale, so FBI analysts must race to fill such information gaps within the three-day time period allotted for each check.

While gun sales have been surging in recent years – largely driven by fears of more restrictive gun laws proposed during the Obama administration – gun check numbers had levelled off in the first months of the pro-gun Trump administration.