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FBI conducted 2.9 million gun background checks in April as sales remain high

Washington — The FBI conducted nearly 3 million gun background checks last month, an indication that gun sales remain high during the coronavirus pandemic. April was the fourth-highest month for background checks since the FBI began keeping statistics in 1998, according to newly released data from the bureau.

More than 2.9 million new background checks were conducted in April, a decrease from the record-shattering 3.7 million checks conducted in March, but still higher than the number of checks done in January and February. The April 2020 number is also significantly higher than the 2.3 million background checks conducted in April 2019.

California, Illinois, Florida and Kentucky had the highest number of background checks last month.

The new figures don't represent the total number of gun purchases, as background checks are only required by federal law for licensed gun dealers, and therefore the data doesn't include private sales or illegally purchased firearms.

"The giant loopholes in America's background check law make it all too likely that today's surge in gun sales will lead to tomorrow's surge in gun violence," said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, in a statement responding to the new numbers. Everytown recently issued guidance for urban mayors to prioritize gun violence intervention programs, as many communities hit hardest by the pandemic also have high rates of gun violence.

High numbers of firearm background checks often follow national crises or mass shooting events, due to concerns about greater gun restrictions. The number of background checks jumped in December 2012, after President Obama's reelection and the mass shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The second-highest month for firearm background checks since 1998 was December 2015, after a mass shooting in Paris and another in San Bernardino, California.

Access to purchasing firearms has become a critical issue during the coronavirus pandemic, as some states have deemed gun dealers to be "nonessential" businesses. Federal guidance has listed gun stores as essential, but ultimately the decision to open or close gun shops is up to the states.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has filed federal lawsuits against states and municipalities for deeming gun stores nonessential, arguing that state officials are taking advantage of the pandemic to strip away the right to bear arms. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced last week that gun stores would be able to make sales by appointment, after the NRA sued the state for closing all gun stores. The NRA has also filed lawsuits against New York and California for deeming gun stores nonessential.

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