The coronavirus seems to be causing gun sales to skyrocket across the country – but perhaps not in one of the most gun-filled states.
Kentucky was the only state to have a decrease in gun background checks in March, according to data released by the FBI Wednesday. The data summarizes all gun background checks initiated by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Kentucky’s number of gun purchase background checks dropped 41 percent from February to March this year, while the nationwide numbers were up 41 percent.
The state still had 235,505 checks in March, which was third in the country behind Illinois and Texas. Kentucky is one of only two states to have surpassed 1 million gun background checks for 2020. Illinois is the other.
Doug Ramsey, director of outreach, education and training at Bud’s Gun Shop in Lexington, said gun purchases may be less frequent in Kentucky because consumers are using the money for other expenses during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Firearm sales in the first quarter of the year are often purchased using tax return checks because it’s a big-ticket item,” he said.
Gun stores also aren’t able to sell guns at typical volumes, Ramsey said. Precautions have been taken to limit the numbers of customers in stores to adhere to social distancing.
“That could certainly impact the number of transfers; obviously it’s going to cut down on the amount of people who can come in on a given day,” he said.
Ramsey also said a lot of Kentucky residents are major supporters of the Second Amendment, and they probably already had guns.
Data would suggest that’s the case: Kentucky had 4.12 million gun background checks done in 2019, the second most of any state. Illinois had the most.
Background checks reflect attempts to buy weapons rather than gun purchases. But the FBI doesn’t collect gun purchase figures. Customers who go through a background check may not buy a gun, or they may purchase multiple guns off of one check.
Varying state gun laws mean gun sales cannot be directly correlated to background checks, the FBI said. Kentucky does not require background checks for gun sales, but federal law still does. Gun dealers cannot knowingly sell a weapon to a convicted felon.
Gun dealers can bypass a background check for Kentucky residents who have a concealed deadly weapons license, Ramsey said. However, Kentucky does monthly background checks on every resident with such a permit to assure they are legally allowed to have it.
“The number of NICS checks in Kentucky is very impressive, again, not accounting for all the CWDL exemptions,” Ramsey said.
Kentucky’s numbers were much larger in January (367,301) and February (398,247) this year. March of 2019 was one of Kentucky’s biggest months for gun background checks that year with 379,268.