Black Friday Gun Sales Spike, Raising Questions About The FBI’s Ability To Handle Background Checks


Black Friday sparked more than just rushes for the latest smartphones, tablets and big-screen TVs. According to Mediaite, it also sparked mad rushes for guns. Yes, guns. In fact, Mediaite is reporting that people were so hot-to-trot for guns this year that the National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS) was processing three background checks per second. On any given, average, day, NICS processes around one per second. Black Friday saw the number of potential gun sales triple.

Why the spike? Well, the obvious answer is that even gun dealers will hold Black Friday sales like anybody else. And why not? Animal shelters have Black Friday adoption deals, so why not gun shops? Black Friday is a major day for gun sales, and they do spike every year.

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However, there is a problem with this year’s Black Friday sales spike. The FBI has only three business days, under federal law, to complete background checks. They bring in about 100 extra people every year to handle the load, and everyone at NICS faces 17-hour days in order to process all the checks, according to USA Today. But for the checks that aren’t completed within that time frame, the decision whether to complete the sale rests with the seller.

People complain about the gun show loophole in our background checks law. This is another one that needs to be closed, and could be closed so easily. Thankfully, many gun retailers—even big box stores like Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods—won’t complete sales without the completed background check. However, there are most likely some who will, just to get the sale.

Can NICS complete all the Black Friday gun sale background checks on time?

USA Today says that the FBI believes NICS will be unable to complete roughly 2% of those background checks due to insufficient information. In that case, too, it’s up to the seller whether to complete the gun sale or not.

Then there’s the problem of state systems that don’t update criminal history in a timely manner, allowing even more people to slip through this particular crack. The Associated Press ran a piece earlier this month with a startling statistic: 186,000 sales in 2013 went through without a completed background check. And that is perfectly legal.

Much of the time, an incomplete background check has to do with being unable to find out the disposition of a particular case. An arrest (not an arrest warrant) doesn’t automatically disqualify someone; if they were acquitted, they’re still eligible to buy a gun. If NICS can’t find how the case went, they may not get back to the seller within the allotted time frame, allowing the seller to complete the sale if they choose.

It’s not a problem of not enforcing existing laws, as many on the right, and especially in the Tea Party, claim. The problem is that existing laws aren’t sufficient, especially when it comes to what information the states must provide, and when they must provide it. Regardless, when the law requiring background checks says that sellers can legally sell the gun to someone if they don’t receive a federal response within three business days, there’s a problem that has nothing to do with enforcement. That’s a problem with the law itself. And too many sales slip through that apparently little-known crack in the system. The Black Friday backlog demonstrates that.


Featured image by Augustas Didžgalvis – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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