April 02, 2020

Warren Joins Colleagues in Calling for Strengthening Background Checks, New Federal Guidance Amidst Surge in Gun Sales

Lawmakers outline five key steps to ensure background checks don’t fall through the cracks, records are appropriately maintained, safe home storage emphasized

Text of Letter (PDF)


Washington, DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and 12 of their colleagues today in calling for strengthening background checks amidst a massive increase in gun sales during the coronavirus emergency. 


In a letter sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), the Senators express serious concerns that the surge in gun sales is overwhelming the National Instant Criminal Background System (NICS), and that firearms dealers, also known as federal firearms licensees (FFLs), need guidance on how to effectively handle the deluge during the health emergency.


“Even absent a public health emergency, law enforcement does not always have enough time to accurately determine pre-sale whether someone is a prohibited buyer,” write the Senators in their letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and ATF Acting Director Regina Lombardo. “We fear that a drastic increase in gun sales in response to the coronavirus pandemic could overwhelm NICS and allow prohibited individuals to obtain firearms through ‘default proceeds’. We believe it is essential that your agencies issue guidance to FFLs about their ongoing responsibilities under the law and the tools with which they can safely operate their businesses during this unprecedented public health emergency.”


The Senators outline five key steps for the FBI and ATF to take immediately to ensure public safety:

  1. Issue guidance to FFLs that background checks are likely to take longer than the usual three businesses days, that dealers should wait for NICS to complete those background checks before transferring firearms, not to transfer firearms to any person believed to be prohibited from possessing a firearm, and to maintain all required records;
  2. Collate data on background checks that have taken longer than three business days to complete in the past three month and provide a report to Congress with a timeframe for completion of the background checks during the pandemic;
  3. Issue an emergency directive to maintain all background check information related to transactions with an “open” status for 90 days beyond the current state of emergency;
  4. Utilize the FBI’s N-Dex database to search for investigations into NICS background checks that receive a “delayed” disposition; and
  5. Issue guidance reminding FFLs of their obligation to provide a gun lock or safe storage device with any new handgun transfer to protect the millions of Americans, including children, now working and studying at home.


Other Senators signing the letter include Senators Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai'i), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).