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Black Friday tends to be a big day for gun sales, with shoppers taking advantage of discounts for gifts to stick under the Christmas tree.

With that comes a spike in background-check requests that the government is not prepared to handle, argue Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a letter published Thursday.


“The FBI is notoriously understaffed on Black Friday, despite knowing year-after-year of the high-volume of gun sales. This must change. Now is the time to prepare the FBI and ATF for adequate staffing to avoid the inevitable holiday rush,” they wrote, referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Federal law requires that a background check is conducted when someone attempts to purchase a gun from a licensed seller in order to make sure they don’t have a criminal record or are otherwise prohibited from owning a firearm.

After the buyer provides a government-issued I.D. and completes a form, the background check is done electronically or over the phone through the FBI’s Instant Criminal Background Check System. About nine in ten checks resulted in an instant decision in 2019, according to the FBI. In about 10% of cases, the check is submitted for further review. If there’s no result after three days, the sale can be completed.

This loophole made it possible for Dylann Roof to purchase a gun in 2015 that he used to kill nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. His background check didn’t instantly come back clean, but was delayed and given to an FBI agent to review. The agent failed to uncover in the next three days that Roof had admitted to drug possession during a recent arrest, which would disqualify him from purchasing a firearm.

Earlier this year, after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Congress extended the deadline to complete a background check to ten business days for gun buyers under 21.

The day after Thanksgiving is often one of the busiest days of the year for gun sales. Last year, there were 187,585 background checks requested, making it one of the top ten business days. That was up from the year prior, but below the record set on Black Friday in 2017, when 203,087 background checks were requested.

In the past, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm industry trade group, said it has worked with retailers that sell guns to spread out special discounts during the week leading up to Black Friday in order to avoid overwhelming the government’s system and resulting in longer wait times than normal.

Black Friday deals could be particularly good this year, with many firearm manufacturers looking to whittle down high inventory levels. “We’re seeing a lot more promotional efforts, we’re seeing things like rebates and discounting going on and likely going to see that at least through the first quarter, I would expect,” said Chris Killoy, CEO of gunmaker Sturm, Ruger & Co. on the company’s earnings call last week.

Senators Ernst and Grassley asked government officials to respond by November 18 detailing how they “plan to ensure they are adequately staffed to avoid additional delays during this high-volume day.”


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