by Tyler Arnold
The Tennessee background-check system for firearms has been backlogged because of a spike in requests from firearm dealers, suggesting an uptick in sales amid COVID-19 concerns.
Between March 12 and March 16, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation processed 14,657 background checks. In a comparable period from last month – Feb. 13 through Feb. 17 – TBI processed 7,901 checks.
Although the system only tracks background checks processed and not the total number of firearms sold, the increase suggests more firearms are being purchased.
Brian Hassler, the owner of Franklin Gun Shop in Franklin, told The Center Square his store has seen sales increase between five and 10 times higher than usual because of COVID-19 concerns. He said the sales include a significant number of new buyers.
“Ammunition sales have seen the sharpest increase, as have personal protection and home defense firearms,” Hassler wrote in an email. “As a result of such sharp increases, certain items are becoming extremely scarce in the supply chain of national distributors and manufacturers, who have also seen some of their operations affected by the pandemic and its fallout, such as stay-at-home orders. As stay-at-home orders and states of emergency have been declared across the country, our customers are looking to ensure their families and possessions are adequately protected in these unprecedented and uncertain times.”
Tennessee has not issued a statewide stay-at-home order, but several localities have, including Nashville and Memphis. These orders prohibit residents from leaving their homes, except for essential activities, such as grocery shopping, going to the pharmacy, getting take-out food and going out for exercise.
Several other states have ordered the closure of businesses deemed nonessential. In some states, gun stores fall into this category. Although this has not happened to Tennessee, the delay with background checks are making it harder for residents to buy firearms.
“[The background-check system] experienced an uncharacteristic delay in processing transactions as a result of three things: a sharp increase in background check requests in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, limited staff access to TBI facilities as a result of an employee’s positive diagnosis and an approximately one-hour, unplanned outage in the technical connection needed to process the background checks [last Thursday],” TBI said in a news release.
Erich Pratt, the senior vice president at Gun Owners of America, told The Center Square the background-check delay is one of the main reasons that GOA opposes the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“Uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 scare has many new gun buyers, some of whom were previously supporters of gun control, running to gun stores to purchase firearms,” Pratt wrote in an email. “Ironically, many of them are disappointed to find out that purchasing a gun is not as easy as gun prohibitionists have claimed. Because of the increased demand, the FBI’s NICS background-check system is experiencing massive delays, and many gun buyers are finding that they can’t complete their purchase.”
The Tennessee Department of Health reported Thursday afternoon the state has 957 confirmed coronavirus cases, 76 hospitalizations and three fatalities. There are more than 75,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. and at least 1,100 deaths.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.
Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
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Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee for The Center Square.