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Latest Background Check Data Underscores Need for Expanded and Strengthened Background Checks

Based on new FBI data, we estimate that more than 1.3 million guns were sold in February 2021 — and potentially hundreds of thousands of them were sold without a background check.

Washington, D.C., March 3, 2021 – Following the latest data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), Brady reiterates the call for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446, which would expand and strengthen background checks. The number of background checks initiated by the FBI in February remained elevated above levels seen in February 2020 and follow an unprecedented surge in background checks over the past year.

Based on this data, Brady estimates that there were over 1.3 million firearms sold in February 2021. When recent research shows that one in five gun owners report purchasing their most recent firearm without a background check via private transfers or at gun shows, we know that many firearms, perhaps hundreds of thousands, were sold last month without a background check.

Brady President Kris Brown shared:

“That the FBI released its latest set of background check data on the same day that Reps. Thompson and Clyburn introduced bills to expand and strengthen the Brady background check system is a tangible reminder of why these bills are so important and why the U.S. House of Representatives must pass them without delay.

Last year, we saw record surges in gun purchases. By our estimates over 20.6 million firearms were sold in 2020, a 64 percent increase over the 12.6 million estimated sales in 2019. This surge continued into January 2021 and, while February’s increases are smaller than previous months, as many as 1.3 million firearms were sold in February.

However, we know that many thousands more firearms were sold without a background check and could easily have been sold to a prohibited purchaser. Indeed, many of the 1.3 million sold where a background check was initiated could still have fallen into the hands of an individual who should not have been able to purchase one, as we know that over 43,000 guns have been transferred to prohibited purchasers since 2008 because of the Charleston loophole. H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446 would help prevent such sales and keep our communities safe. These bills are critical first steps to making our country safer and stopping the gun violence epidemic that kills over 100 people every day.”

About Brady’s Gun Sales Estimates:

While the number of Brady Background Checks initiated through NICS is not equivalent to the number of guns sold, it does provide insight into trends in U.S. firearm sales. This data only reflects gun sales where background checks are initiated. Many private sales occur without any background check and these are not included in the NICS data. Additionally, some background checks result in a denial, meaning that the transfer to the prospective purchaser cannot legally proceed.

NICS data is available by month, year, state, and transaction type. Using methods similar to those used by The New York Times, the Small Arms Survey, and National Rifle Association, Brady uses specific data sets included in NICS’ monthly reports to generate estimates of gun sales for a given period. More information on Brady’s methodology is available here.

About H.R. 8:

Introduced on March 2, 2021 by Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5), H.R. 8 makes it unlawful to sell or transfer a firearm in any transaction without a Brady Background Check. This bill expands the current Brady Law to every sale or transfer in private sales, subject to the narrow exceptions.

About H.R. 1446:

Introduced on March 2, 2021 by Rep. Jim Clyburn (SC-6), H.R. 1446 provides the background check system with additional time to make a final determination on a potential firearms purchaser before a licensed dealer can transfer a gun, closing the so-called “Charleston loophole.”

Currently, federal law allows a “default proceed,” whereby a federally licensed firearm dealer (FFL) can transfer a gun to a customer if the federal background check is not completed within 3 business days of the background check request to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The Charleston loophole is named for the 2015 mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine innocent people. The shooter – who was prohibited by law from possessing a firearm – was able to acquire his gun before the FBI could complete his background check. Although the FBI needed more time to investigate the shooter’s disqualifying records to determine whether the purchase was lawful, federal law allowed the dealer to transfer the gun after three days even though the check was not completed.

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Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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