Gun background checks soared in April

Editor’s note: This story and headline have been corrected. An earlier version overstated the number of gun sales that have been recorded in Illinois.

Concerns about looming gun control legislation and rising crime continued to fuel gun sales in America throughout the month of April, according to industry observers.

The FBI conducted more than 3.5 million gun-related background checks last month, a 20% year-over-year increase from April 2020, according to the latest FBI figures released Monday.

Nearly 1.7 million of those gun background checks were specifically for gun purchases, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group that cross references FBI data with actual sales figures provided by gun merchants to determine how many guns are sold monthly.

NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva said the firearms industry sold more guns last month than in any April on record.

“April marked 13 months of elevated firearm sales, which have ranged between 1.5 million and 2 million each month,” he said. “Firearm sales spiked in March 2020 and have remained at unprecedented levels since. It’s a remarkable feat of firearm manufacturers to keep pace with this blistering demand.”

Not keeping pace with demand

Since the pandemic began, Americans have been buying firearms faster than gun makers can manufacture them.

“There are a lot of people coming into retailers looking for something and if there’s not something on the shelf, then that sale is just not happening,” Oliva said. “People are ordering the firearm online and then the firearm is being delivered to the retailer without ever being displayed on the shelf.”

April gun sales across the nation were down 25% from March, which set a new record for monthly gun sales thanks to a series of high-profile mass shootings that spurred President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress to push for passing new federal gun control measures that would expand background check requirements and limit or ban future sales of so-called assault weapons.

“We’re still at levels that are much higher than they were in 2019, 2018 or other years,” Oliva said.

Illinois backlog

Background checks don’t always match gun sales, but Illinois’ background check figures are more complicated than most states.

Federal authorities there have completed nearly 4.3 million gun background checks since January, including more than 955,000 submitted last month, according to the latest-available FBI data.

That’s more April gun background checks than the next five highest-ranking states combined.

But the NSSF says Illinois’ adjusted sales estimate for 2021 is closer to 191,000, including more than 44,000 guns sold last month.

The trade group says Illinois firearms background checks have been greatly inflated so far this year because of a backlog in the state’s Firearms Owner Identification system.

“There is certainly pent-up demand for guns in Illinois,” Oliva said. “Illinois is trending higher than they did in 2019. They’re still elevated above historical norms.”

Illinois’ FOID Act, which requires gun purchasers to obtain a special ID from state police, was established in 1968, but the system was overwhelmed with requests a year ago when the pandemic fueled a national surge in first-time gun buyers.

“The Illinois State Police were inundated with applications for the FOID card,” said Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies & Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Illinois, a popular gun store about 20 miles northwest of Chicago. “My attorney and his wife both filed in March of last year and got their FOID cards in the last two weeks.”

Eldridge said a surge in crime in Chicago has also led many to purchase firearms in his area. His biggest sellers recently have been semiautomatic handguns and AR-15s, weapons often used in high-profile mass shootings.

“We continue to sell everything that comes into the store within a couple of days,” Eldridge said. “When people that live in high crime areas hear a lot of talk and even legislative action to defund the police, it’s reasonable for them to take steps to protect themselves.”

A lawsuit contending that the Illinois FOID Act is unconstitutional was appealed to the state supreme court on Thursday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Demand for guns in Illinois may be higher than the current numbers suggest. The state shares a border with Indiana, where the FBI completed nearly 187,000 gun background checks last month, the third highest in the nation, according to the FBI.

Last week, the gun control advocacy group Everytown filed a lawsuit against a Gary, Indiana, gun store owner on behalf of the city of Chicago after a study allegedly revealed 850 guns illegally purchased at the shop were recovered from gun-related crime scenes in the Windy City.

“You can go over the border to Indiana and get military grade weapons if you have the money,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told local ABC affiliate WLS-TV a week ago.

Correction: An earlier version of this story and headline incorrectly stated that Illinois was outpacing other states in gun sales. Because of a backlog, data show the state’s federal background checks surging 955,000 last month, but that figure does not directly correlate to sales. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade group that cross references FBI data with actual sales figures provided by gun merchants to determine how many guns are sold monthly, later clarified that the April sales in Illinois were around 44,000. So far in 2021, about 191,000 guns have been sold in Illinois.