The FBI has been issuing more seizure orders for guns sold to suspected prohibited buyers than at any time in the history of the U.S. federal firearm background check system, USA Today reported on Sunday.
More than 6,300 such referrals were transmitted to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives in 2020 to take back weapons from buyers when background checks later determined they may have been ineligible because of criminal records, mental health histories, disqualifying military service records and other bans, said the report, citing the most recent data compiled by the FBI.
An additional 5,200 directives were issued in 2021, adding to the largest two-year total by far since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began publishing data in 1998.
The numbers follow years of surging firearm sales. Yet they also underscore a longstanding tension in the system: Federally licensed dealers are permitted to proceed with weapons sales in cases when background checks are not completed within the required three business days, according to the report.
Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, was quoted as saying that the historic surge in firearm purchases in the United States was "spurred by the combination of the onset of a scary pandemic, concerns about disruptions to the economy and social order, widespread protests against police violence, some violent and destructive, talks of defunding the police, historic increases in murders and one of the most hostile political environments in our nation's history."
"The FBI likely did not have the human resources needed to keep up with the surge in background checks for firearm purchases. So it's a lot more people buying guns and insufficient resources to complete the background checks and deny prohibited persons," he said.
Seizure orders are issued when analysts later conclude that buyers likely should have been barred. The FBI noted that the retrieval orders represent a fraction of the millions of gun checks processed in 2020 and 2021. The 2022 data is not yet available, according to the report.