Mass Shootings Gun Access

In this Jan. 19, 2016, file photo, handguns are displayed at the Smith & Wesson booth at the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas. Federal law has no mechanism to seize firearms from people who are prohibited to buy or own one. Most states let police seize a firearm when they encounter such people, but few states have a procedure to actively retrieve and remove firearms from those people.

Background checks for gun sales in Colorado in the first nine months of 2020 have exceeded the annual totals of 2017, 2018 and 2019, and are close to surpassing the previous high in 2013.

Through September, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation processed 373,036 background checks. Because there is no national database for recording sales of individual firearms, background checks are a proxy measure for weapons purchases. In all of 2013, there were almost 397,000 background checks, a threshold nearly matched in 2016 with more than 389,000 checks.

It is not a coincidence that firearm purchases spike in presidential election years. Studies suggest that uncertainty around future gun safety laws is a motivator for people to acquire guns.

"Firearm background checks reached record highs at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and have been shown to increase significantly during elections and following mass shootings,” wrote Bree Lang and Matthew Lang, associate professors at the University of California-Riverside, in a paper published in April.

The pandemic drastically accelerated sales in the early months of the pandemic, to the point that wait times for background checks exceeded three days. Although average turnaround time has drifted down to 10 hours as of September, that is still an increase from the six minutes CBI reported in January. 

The percentage of denials CBI has issued resulting from prospective purchasers’ ineligibility to own a gun is also elevated. Through September, 3.08% of background checks came back as denials, compared with 2.06% in 2019.

Only in 2005 and earlier — in the first years after the establishment of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — did denials exceed the percentage seen this year.

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