“The share of background checks the FBI never completes has ticked up slowly since 2014, the first year on record, when it processed 8,256,688 checks and didn’t complete 172,879, or just under 2.1 percent.
But by 2019, the bureau was failing to complete about 2.5 percent of the background checks it processed, and it didn’t finish almost 3.4 percent in the first nine months of 2020.
Those numbers only include gun background checks run by the FBI, so they don’t count the 20 states that process some or all background checks themselves. It’s also important to remember that the number of background checks isn’t the same as the number of guns sold — many are also run when people apply for gun permits, for example, or when states check on the status of gun permit holders. A single background check can also represent multiple gun sales.”
“The FBI responds to most gun background checks with an immediate “yes” or “no.” But sometimes, it has to delay the check to do more research because its records are incomplete. After three business days, the dealer can sell the gun anyway. Many, including large chains like Walmart, choose not to. But ones that do don’t have to tell the FBI about it.
In an average year, almost 275,000 background checks take longer than three business days. In 2020, there were 535,786 such checks, according to FBI data. That number doesn’t include background checks for things like concealed-carry permits or explosives licenses, which aren’t subject to the three-business-day rule.”
“after 90 days, the bureau’s regulations require it to stop work and delete the background check from its computers. To make sure it doesn’t violate that policy, the bureau actually deletes unfinished background checks on day 88 just to be safe.
In the first nine months of 2020, the FBI deleted 316,912 unfinished background checks — 3.4 percent of all the checks it processed. In an average year, it deletes about 202,000. Again, this only includes background checks that are subject to the three-business-day rule.
If the FBI discovers that the potential buyer can’t own a gun in between day three and day 88, it contacts the dealer to see if the sale went through anyway. If it did, the FBI asks the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (the ATF) to retrieve the weapon.
Between 2014 and 2019, there were on average at least 3,800 of these so-called “delayed denial” sales annually, according to ATF data obtained by the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. But there were at least 5,807 in all of 2020, according to the ATF data — the most since 2006, the first complete year on record.”
“Asked why it didn’t finish so many background checks in 2020, the FBI said in a statement that it “depends on the availability of relevant information and records provided by federal, state, local, and tribal agencies.” The bureau also said that it has “reallocated resources to help ensure that it can continue processing background checks efficiently.”
Gun sales have surged since April 2020, thanks, at least in part, to the pandemic, protests last summer for racial justice and the election of President Biden in November. The FBI data shows how the background check system has struggled to keep up. And, at this point, it’s unclear when the problem is going to get better.”