Center for American Progress

RELEASE: The Coronavirus Pandemic Exposed and Exacerbated Dangerous Gaps in Gun Laws
Press Release

RELEASE: The Coronavirus Pandemic Exposed and Exacerbated Dangerous Gaps in Gun Laws

Washington, D.C. — Not only has the coronavirus pandemic exposed significant gaps within the American health care and economic systems, it has also exacerbated dangerous gaps in laws regarding firearm and ammunition sales and ownership.

Since the outbreak, gun sales across the country have spiked: The FBI reported huge increases in the number of firearm-related background checks conducted in the first four months of the crisis in the United States. In March alone, the FBI reported that nearly 2 million guns were sold from licensed firearm dealers, with another 1.6 million guns sold in April and 1.5 million guns purchased in May. June saw the highest numbers yet, with an estimated 2.3 million guns sold.

This surge in sales has not only put significant strain on the already under-resourced background check system but has also highlighted the dangerous gaps in our nation’s gun laws. The background check system is inundated with requests, creating delays that can result in dealers selling firearms without completing the background check—a practice that is permitted under a gap in the law that is often referred to as the “Charleston loophole.” Private sellers are not federally required to run a background check, which creates a pathway for people barred from firearm ownership to obtain weapons. There are no federally mandated requirements for gun owners to learn how to safely use and store their firearm, a gap that is even more problematic given that the majority of buyers during the pandemic are first-time gun owners.

“The historic surge in gun sales during the pandemic has put unprecedented pressure on the background check system and has shined new light on the myriad problems with our current system of laws governing gun sales and ownership,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president of Gun Violence Prevention at the Center. “We know that this influx of guns into our communities will inevitably lead to more tragic shootings. The United States has had the gruesome distinction of being home to the highest rates of gun violence among high-income nations for far too long, and this recent increase in sales brings into the stark relief the urgent need for policymakers to finally take concrete steps to confront this public health epidemic.”

In a new issue brief, the Center’s Gun Violence Prevention team proposes that policymakers consider implementing gun licensing laws to help address the problems around gun sales and ownership. Firearm licensing laws typically include a background check, safety training, and a waiting period before a firearm can be acquired. Licensing laws have proven to be effective measures to reduce both gun homicides and gun suicides, as well as a measure that helps reduce gun trafficking.

Related resources:

4 Reasons Not To Buy Guns in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic” by Chelsea Parsons, Eugenio Weigend Vargas, and Rukmani Bhatia

Gun Violence in America: A State-by-State Analysis” by Eugenio Weigend Vargas

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Adam Peck at [email protected].