It’s likely that more guns are being sold in Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s certain that more consumers are submitting to firearms-related background checks.
That’s according to first-quarter figures from state police officials, who highlighted a more than 14% increase in completed checks when compared to the same time period in 2019.
That same 2019-to-2020 comparison showed an about 109% increase in the number of criminal investigations related to background check violations.
Only statewide figures were available, according to state police Communications Director Ryan Tarkowski, who could not provide data specific to Lancaster County.
Within the first quarter of 2020, 304,876 background checks were conducted during gun sale transactions, figures show. In 2019, only 266,442 checks had been conducted during that period.
So far in 2020, the most single-day checks were recorded on March 20, when 8,346 were completed. That’s still shy of the record on Black Friday in 2017, when 9,178 checks were completed, Tarkowski said, guessing that record likely was due to good holiday deals.
Often during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, gun sales will increase, Tarkowski said. As an example, he pointed to a similar uptick in the weeks and months after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“It’s not unexpected,” Tarkowski said.
Gun buyers in Pennsylvania must submit information to the Pennsylvania Instant Check System anytime they purchase a handgun to determine whether they are legally eligible to own one.
According to Tarkowski, checks also are run at certified firearms shops when long guns — rifles and shotguns — are sold. A 2019 state police report lists the number of Lancaster County licensed firearms dealers at 60.
However, no background check is required if those long guns are resold by individual owners, he said.
Past criminal convictions can prohibit gun ownership in the state.
In Pennsylvania, providing false information during the check process can lead to third-degree felony charges.
In the first quarter of 2020, 1,226 background check failures were forwarded to federal, state and local law enforcement officials for investigation. The year before, only 586 failures had been forwarded during that period.
State troopers are well capable of handling the increased caseload, Tarkowski said.
“We’re always ready to meet the need, whatever that may be,” he said.