The FBI has been issuing more seizure orders for guns sold to suspected prohibited buyers than at any time in the history of the federal firearm background check system. More than 6,300 such referrals were transmitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in 2020 to take back weapons from buyers when background checks later determined they may have been ineligible because of criminal records, mental health histories, disqualifying military service records and other bans, USA Today reports. An additional 5,200 directives were issued in 2021, adding to the largest two-year total by far since the National Instant Criminal Background Check System began publishing data in 1998. The numbers, following years of surging firearm sales, underscore a longstanding tension in the system: Federally licensed dealers may proceed with weapons sales in cases when background checks are not completed within the required three business days.
Seizure orders are issued when analysts conclude that buyers likely should have been barred. The FBI noted that the retrieval orders represent a small fraction of the millions of gun checks processed in 2020 and 2021. The 2022 data are not available. "Historically, the NICS Section has experienced an increase in firearm retrieval referrals as increases in overall background check volume occurs," the FBI said. The ATF said the agency investigates "any delayed denials referred to us from the FBI, especially those resulting in the transfer of a firearm to a person who is prohibited from possessing firearms." The firearms agency referred questions about possible causes for sudden changes in the data to the FBI, but suggested that "an increase in total background checks could foreseeably have a corresponding increase in delayed transactions and thus delayed denials."