SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The number of people stopped from buying guns through the U.S. background check system hit an all-time high of more than 300,000 last year amid a surge of firearm sales, according to new records obtained by the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
The FBI numbers provided to The Associated Press show the background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020 as in the year before. About 42% of those denials were because the would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records.
The increase in blocked gun sales largely tracks with the record-setting surge in sales that took hold along with the coronavirus pandemic and has continued into this year, through historic demonstrations against police brutality, deep political divisions and an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
It comes as Congress has failed to pass major legislation on guns despite the Democratic majority and President Joe Biden’s push. A bill that would strengthen background checks is stalled in the Senate. The House in March passed the legislation requiring the checks on all sales and transfers, as well as an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases. Most states require background checks only for sales at federally licensed dealers. But the legislation faces an uphill battle getting any Republican support in the Senate.
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According to the data, the rate of barred would-be gun buyers also increased somewhat over the previous two years, from about 0.6% to 0.8%. That could be in part because many of the people who tried to get guns in 2020 were buying them for the first time and may not have been aware that they were legally barred from owning them, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA Law professor specializing in gun policy.
“Some may have a felony conviction on their record and not think about it,” he said.
Making a false statement in connection with a background check is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine, but few people are prosecuted for what would amount to lying on the form filled out before a gun purchase, he said.
In 2017, just 12 of the 112,000 people denied a gun purchase, about 0.01%, were federally prosecuted, largely due to limited resources for the time-intensive investigations, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.