Florida & Second Amendment: How gun buying habits shifted during COVID-19 pandemic, protests

Florida

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – During a year of protests, lockdowns, and masks, the number of Americans trying to buy guns surged. Florida was not an exception to that trend.

When President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, 2020, tensions in the country ran high and shortages on everyday consumer products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer became commonplace.

Rising tensions, more firearm background checks

From the official start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March to nationwide protests erupting after the death of George Floyd in May, 2020 was a year that saw so many Americans buying guns in a short time that stores had trouble stocking firearms and ammunition.

In Florida, March 2020 saw a 91% increase in gun background checks compared to the previous year.

In March 2019, 88,481 background checks were performed, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As the pandemic kicked off its first month, 169,715 background checks were performed.

The increase trend year over year continued through April and May, before surging in June, following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests.

Here’s a look at how the number of background checks to buy a gun reported by FDLE changed, month by month, versus previous years:

Month20192019 Daily Average20202020 Daily Average20212021 Daily Average
March88,4812,854169,7155,475139,5734,502
April72,0252,401120,5374,018121,5644,052
May68,7262,217104,7213,37896,9443,127
June67,1252,238183,7916,12620,840 (as of June 6)3,473 (As of June 6)
July65,7382,121149,2914,816N/AN/A
(Source: FDLE, data up to date as of June 6, 2021)

The numbers reported by FDLE differ from those reported for Florida in the NICS database.

Month201920202021
March114,001192,234178,247
April93,693128,670162,912
May88.204115,815133,237
June85,730210,415N/A
July84,024190,975N/A
(Source: NICS Firearm Background Check data)

The surge in firearm background checks for March 2020 in Florida, and the U.S., came as the markets and consumers were both left uncertain as a global pandemic put supply chains, access to goods and economic success at risk.

Nationally, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) data shows a similar increase of firearm background checks in March and June 2020, and overall higher numbers for each month compared to 2019.

Month201920202021
March2,644,8513,740,6884,691,738
April2,334,2492,911,1283,514,070
May2,349,3093,091,4553,222,105
June2,312,3093,931,607N/A
July2,030,6613,639,224N/A
(Source: NICS Firearm Background Check data)


Data from NICS for June and July 2021 is not available yet.

More firearm background checks, more gun sales

According to the Brookings Institute, on the national level, gun sales increased similarly to the number of firearm background checks.

In March 2020, Brookings says gun sales rose to 176,000 per day by March 16, just three days after Trump’s emergency declaration on COVID-19.

After the death of George Floyd on May 25, gun sales rose again. By June 2 and June 3, 2020, gun sales in the U.S. rose to 150,000 per day. By the end of the month, Brookings says 3.9 million guns were sold in that month alone, 1.4 million more than what had been expected.

Data from the FBI’s NICS database backs up the Brookings data, in terms of the increased interest in gun ownership, based off of the number of firearm background checks performed.

The FBI data shows that 2021 had six of the top 10 highest days for background checks to buy firearms from Nov. 30, 1998 to May 31, 2021. The same data also shows 2021 had six of the top 10 highest background check request weeks in the same span of time.

The day with the most requested checks in that date range was May 17, when 236,295 checks were performed. That week, from May 15 to May 21, 1,218,002 checks were performed.

Gun politics, reloaded

Multiple shootings across the U.S. in 2021 led President Joe Biden to formally make gun control an administration priority, leading to a mix of support and criticism across the political spectrum.

Florida, politically, has never shied away from its support of the right to own a firearm, or the Second Amendment in general, a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

In the most recent legislative session, the Florida legislature passed a bill that would limit restrictions on the right to carry arms in public. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 1884 into law on May 11.

Under the new law, Florida residents will be allowed to file suit against any local law enforcement agency or governing body over “any ordinance, regulation, measure, directive, rule, enactment, order, or policy whether written or unwritten” that may affect a person or organization’s right to bear arms.

In the language of SB 1884, those filing suit will have the right to monetary damages and reasonable legal fees, up to $100,000, if a rule, regulation, or ordinance is enforced, whether or not it is written or unwritten.

According to an analysis composed by the Florida House of Representatives and published on June 7:

Other than limited authority for a county to require certain criminal background checks, counties, cities, other subdivisions, and agencies may not enact, enforce, or promulgate any laws concerning firearms or ammunition.

House of Representatives Analysis of SB 1884/HB 1409, submitted June 7, 2021

The law does not make clear what exactly qualifies as an unwritten policy regarding gun rights or restrictions on those rights. The full length of SB 1884 is two pages of text.

The law takes effect on July 1.

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