Background checks blocked a record 300,000 gun sales across the US in 2020 – almost double compared to 2019.
FBI data obtained by the group Everytown for Gun Safety and provided to the Associated Press showed that 42 per cent of the rejected buyers had previous felony convictions.
The increase in rejections is in line with the rise in successful gun purchases that started during the early days of the pandemic and has continued into 2021 through protests against police brutality prompted by the murder of George Floyd and deep political division that led to the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January.
Despite efforts by congressional Democrats and the Biden White House, no major gun reform has been passed since the Democrats took full control of Washington in January, with the filibuster holding back Democrats in the 50-50 Senate.
Senate legislation that would boost background checks has been stalled. The Democratic-majority House passed two bills in March requiring background checks on all gun sales and transfers as well as allowing for an extended 10-day review on purchases.
In most states, background checks are only needed at federally licensed gun dealers.
The number of prospective buyers who were rejected from buying a gun went from 0.6 per cent to 0.8 per cent over the last two years.
UCLA Law professor Adam Winkler told the AP that many first time buyers may not have been aware that they were prohibited from buying a gun.
“Some may have a felony conviction on their record and not think about it,” he said.
Lying in order to get around a background check is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a large fine, but very few are prosecuted for putting false information on application forms.
Only 12 of the 112,000 who were rejected as they tried to buy a gun in 2017 were federally prosecuted, mostly because of a lack of resources.
Research by Everytown found that 16 per cent of those stopped from buying a firearm were prevented by state laws, such as red flag laws or extreme-risk protection orders. Domestic violence was behind 12 per cent of the rejections.
Everytown’s director of research Sarah Burd-Sharps said in a statement: “There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms.”
“The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time,” she added.
In 2020, almost 23 million guns were bought, compared to nearly 14 million in 2019, CNN reported.
Republican governors across the US have recently signed legislation that removed restrictions on guns. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Texas Governor Greg Abbott have signed laws allowing adults to carry guns without permits.
Missouri Governor Mike Parson signed legislation forbidding state police from enforcing federal gun laws. Democrats have argued that this is unconstitutional. The city of St Louis and St Louis County both filed lawsuits against the legislation on Monday.
US District Judge Roger Benitez overturned California’s 30-year ban on assault weapons, likening the weapon to a “Swiss Army Knife”.
“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defence equipment,” Judge Benitez said in the ruling.
The US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit blocked the ruling on Monday.
“The stay shall remain in effect until further order of this court,” the three-judge panel wrote.