2020 sets all-time record for FBI firearm background checks amid election, pandemic

Consumer

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With two months still left in the year, the FBI has already set a record for the number of firearm background checks conducted in 2020.

Licensed gun dealers must legally run this check every time someone purchases a firearm or multiple firearms. The agency began tracking this data with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in 1998. While it doesn’t account for every gun sold, it does indicate Americans purchasing patters.

Amid a pandemic, civil unrest and a presidential election, the 2020 numbers show Americans have increasingly turned to firearm ownership.

In Texas, the FBI conducted 1,922,440 checks. The last time Texas saw this much interest was in 2016, when 1,721,726 checks were done throughout the year of the last presidential election. The state also saw spikes in in 2012 and 2008.

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“There is nothing unpredictable about the firearms industry,” gun shop owner and firearms instructor Michael Cargill said.

He said he sees a surge in customers every election season or anytime there is a major crime event.

NICS data reflects Cargill’s experience, showing spikes after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and again after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso last fall.

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His store in south Austin, Central Texas Gun Works, saw a surge in customers when the pandemic first began in March, then another wave when protests broke out and calls to “defund the police” became prevalent.

“To protect themselves and also their family,” Cargill said, when asked why most first-time buyers decide to purchase a gun.

NICS data reveals the most checks ever performed on a single day was Friday, March 20, after most of the country had shut down all nonessential businesses due to the spread of coronavirus.

Cargill said the days leading up to and following Election Day were especially busy, too, with a line out the door.

He added he has seen a shift in the demographics of his customer base.

“Lately, we’ve had a lot of women come into the shop. We’ve had a lot of black males and black females,” he said. “A lot of people on the ‘left’ side of the spectrum, the Democratic party, have actually come in to get a gun.”

Advocates at Texas Gun Sense said this points to a general feeling of unrest and uncertainty, regardless of party affiliation. Still, they argue a firearm isn’t always the answer.

“You have a lot of people who are desperate to feel better, desperate to feel safe in some way,” Board President Ed Scruggs said. “So they are reaching out for a firearm. There’s no evidence, first of all, that that’s going to work. I think it’s indicative of the level of anxiousness out there.”

Scruggs said his organization hopes people considering a firearm purchase ask themselves a few key questions.

“Why am I buying this? Am I buying this because it makes me feel better right now, or because I really have a use for it?” he said. “Do you know how to handle it? Can you handle the responsibility to keep it safely stored all the time?”

He went on, “It’s not just something to do haphazardly.”

Cargill emphasized the importance of safety and training, too. He said the number of people enrolled in their License To Carry classes has more than doubled. He doesn’t expect it to slow down any time soon.

KXAN’s Christopher Adams contributed to this report.

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