Are governments using the COVID-19 epidemic as an excuse to slow or stop gun sales? A little-noticed announcement from the FBI this week may soon enable bureaucratic inertia to delay legal gun sales indefinitely.
As uncertainty surrounding the social impacts of the Wuhan virus mounts, Americans increasingly have looked to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms for protection. But we’re seeing signs that governments view limiting gun sales as a legitimate part of the public health response to the epidemic.
In San Jose, California, officials shut down gun stores as “nonessential” businesses. In Fresno, California, the city council is considering bans on the sale of liquor and firearms. Similarly, in Illinois, municipal leaders are seeking emergency powers to ban gun sales. In Philadelphia, police have used the pandemic as a pretext to stop issuing license-to-carry permits. On March 11, the mayor of New Orleans issued a proclamation which authorizes the suspension of firearms sales.
For some reason, the Centers for Disease Control has also entered the gun control debate by devoting some of its “disease-fighting” resources to monitoring firearms deaths. It has lavished resources on this phenomenon, in effect equating gun violence and violent crime with infectious disease.
The CDC is so invested in the study of gun violence that the term, “firearm” returns 1,784 results in a search of its website. By comparison, the “coronavirus” returns 7,893 results. We can all wish those resources instead had been devoted to controlling and preventing viral pandemics.
But more troubling is that the federal government appears poised to use state government shutdowns as a pretext for indefinitely slowing some gun sales.
Under the current system, an American must pass a background check before taking possession of a firearm. As noted on the FBI’s public information site, “Mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Act) of 1993, Public Law 103-159, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) . . . for information to be supplied immediately on whether the transfer of a firearm would be in violation of . . . law.”
Concerned that federal agencies might passively ban gun purchases by providing slow background check responses, Congress enacted a failsafe provision: If the government fails to resolve the background check within three business days, the gun dealer may choose to transfer the firearm anyway.
The three-day failsafe provides officials running the NICS a strong incentive to perform a timely background check because the public will know exactly who to blame for a failure of the process. But what is a “business day?” Under normal circumstances, that excludes holidays and weekends. In the midst of this current crisis, that term has been reinterpreted.
The FBI recently published this notice:
As the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Section works through the impact of the COVID-19 operationally, we are working to maintain our services. We are aware that states may be considering options to protect the health and safety of their employees, which may include a reduction in office availability or even closure to some offices.
Should a state choose to limit days of operation by completely closing state offices one or more days a week or even indefinitely, this could potentially impact the Brady Transfer Date (BTD) by changing the time in which an FFL can legally transfer a firearm in a delayed status. The NICS Section urges FFLs to be cognizant of the impact this may have to your day-to-day operations, and also to stress the importance of adhering to the BTD that is provided to you at the time a transaction is put into a Delay status. The Brady Act does not federally prohibit an FFL from transferring a firearm after the third business day expires, even if the NICS Section has been unable to provide a proceed response, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(t)(1).
In other words, the FBI’s interpretation is that when a state closes its offices during the crisis, these will not be counted as business days. In many states, that represents a potential delay of weeks or perhaps months as the pandemic rages.
Civil order previously has broken down in America to the point that owning a firearm was essential to personal safety. Remember Los Angeles during the 1992 Rodney King riots and post-Katrina New Orleans in 2005, to name two recent examples. Americans have reason to worry and good reasons to want to be armed.
In Philadelphia, police have announced a policy of ending “nonviolent” criminal arrests. A thief can steal your car as a policeman watches and nothing will happen. There simply aren’t enough police to protect us all if a sense of law and order collapses. The Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to self-protection. Now is the worst possible time to curtail that right.