42% of Rejected Gun Background Checks in 2020 Had Felony Convictions

Forty-two percent of people blocked from buying guns after U.S. background checks had felony convictions on their records, according to FBI data provided to the Associated Press.

Additionally, the number of blocked gun sales nearly doubled between 2019 and 2020, the data shows. The number of would-be gun owners prevented from buying firearms hit a record high of more than 300,000 in 2020.

The increase in rejected gun-buying bids coincides with an overall uptick in firearm sales that started during the pandemic and has persisted into 2021, the AP reported. Despite a Democratic majority in Congress and pressure from President Joe Biden, lawmakers have yet to pass new gun control restrictions.

The House successfully passed legislation in March that would require background checks on all gun sales and transfers, in addition to a 10-day assessment period. But the bill is stalled in the Senate and lacks Republican support.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Background Checks
Semi-automatic handguns are displayed at a shop in New Castle, Pennsylvania. FBI data provided to the Associated Press shows that background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020, compared with the year before. Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

According to the data, the rate of barred would-be gun buyers also increased somewhat over the previous two years, from about 0.6 percent to 0.8 percent. That could be in part because many of the people who tried to get guns in 2020 were buying them for the first time and may not have been aware that they were legally barred from owning them, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor specializing in gun policy.

"Some may have a felony conviction on their record and not think about it," he said.

Making a false statement in connection with a background check is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine, but few people are prosecuted for what would amount to lying on the form filled out before a gun purchase, he said.

In 2017, just 12 of the 112,000 people denied a gun purchase, about 0.01 percent, were federally prosecuted, largely due to limited resources for the time-intensive investigations, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

Research from the group Everytown for Gun Safety found that 16 percent of would-be gun buyers in 2020 were prohibited by state law, like the extreme-risk protection orders or red-flag laws passed in several states. Another 12 percent were related to domestic violence, either people subject to a protective order or convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence crime.

The data shows how necessary the legislation is, said Sarah Burd-Sharps, director of research at Everytown.

"There's no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms," she said in a statement. "The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time."

Gun rights groups have pushed back against the proposal, and Alan Gottlieb, founder of the group the Second Amendment Foundation, said the increase in denials might be partly because more states have been updating their records of restricted people. There are sometimes false positives as well, he said.

"A day doesn't go by that our office doesn't get complaint calls from people who've been denied wrongly," he said.

The data also comes as a growing number of conservative-leaning states drop requirements for people to get background checks and training to carry guns in public.

Texas last week became the latest state of about 20 to drop permitting requirements amid a push that began gathering steam several years ago. Gun rights groups say those requirements are an unfair burden for law-abiding gun owners, but firearm safety groups worry it's a dangerous trend that will allow more firearms in the wrong hands.

Denial data is released by the FBI, but the information collected by Everytown breaks it down by year and includes data from states such as California and Florida, which conduct their own background checks.

Biden Speaks on Gun Control
President Joe Biden speaks as Vice President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland listen during a gun control event on April 8. Alex Wong/Getty Images