Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to beef up staffing at the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives for an expected surge of Black Friday gun purchases.
“The FBI is notoriously understaffed on Black Friday, despite knowing year-after-year of the high volume of gun sales. This must change. Now is the time to prepare the FBI and ATF for adequate staffing to avoid the inevitable holiday rush,” wrote Iowa GOP Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley.
A Justice Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the busiest shopping day of the year and guns are no exception. And each gun purchase requires a gun dealer to run a background check on a prospective buyer through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The NICS background check is managed by the FBI and lists persons prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm. It is conducted by phone or computer and most checks are determined within minutes, but the NICS check can last longer if the FBI is short-staffed.
Last year, NICS recorded 187,585 inquiries on Black Friday, according to FBI statistics, one of the ten highest days for background checks. The record for most background checks processed on a single day is 203,086, which happened on Black Friday in 2017.
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In recent years, some firearms retailers have spread out their sales, offering deals throughout the week to avoid overwhelming the FBI on Black Friday.
While the FBI is shorthanded on the shopping holiday, the ATF has been plagued by staffing shortages for years. The agency provides gun dealers with forms required to relay information to NICS.
The staffing problems at ATF have led to inordinate delays, the senators said. For example, a potential buyer who wants to own a firearm with a suppressor, silencer, or short-barrel rifle must pay a special tax known as a tax stamp. As a result of the ATF’s staffing issues, the current wait time for a tax stamp form is one year, according to the GOP senators’ letter.
Ms. Ernst and Mr. Grassley requested Mr. Garland respond by Nov. 18 to explain how the Justice Department plans to ensure the FBI and ATF are adequately staffed on Black Friday.