The US has carried out the highest ever number of background checks on people wanting to buy or carry a gun, according to figures released by the FBI.
Gun ownership applications always increase in election years, but it is thought the current surge is also being fuelled by economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, civil rights protests and calls for a reduction in police funding.
The figures show that 3.9 million checks were carried out in June, the biggest ever monthly total since they were introduced in 1998. The previous highest monthly figure had been in March.
In total 19 million checks have been carried out so far in 2020.
The checks are meant to ensure criminals and other prohibited people cannot buy or possess a gun and are a key barometer for gun sales, although each check could be for the sale of more than one firearm.
The FBI figures also include checks for permits in states that require them in order to carry a gun.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which represents gun manufacturers, says fear seems to be driving the surge in sales.
Director of public affairs for the group, Mark Oliva, said: “Civil unrest, rioting, looting and calls to defund police are unquestionably motivating factors of why this trend is increasing.
“Americans are right to be concerned for their personal safety.”
He went on: “Politicians who entertain notions of defunding police departments are the same ones who call for strict gun control and even outright confiscation.
“These figures aren’t push polls. They are representative of Americans from all walks of life who are taking action and taking responsibility for their rights and their safety.”
This year has seen half of the 10 busiest ever days on record for gun sales and seven of the 10 busiest weeks.
The number of required background checks started to climb steadily as COVID-19 began to take a hold in the US and states issued stay-at-home orders. Long queues formed outside some gun shops and people emptied shelves of ammunition.
The sense of paranoia appeared to increase again in May after the death of George Floyd and protesters took to the streets demanding an end to racial inequality and police brutality.
Calls to defund the police have heightened fears in some sections of the community about being able to defend themselves if officers are unable to respond to calls.
The NSSF estimates that 40% of all those trying to buy a gun have never owned a firearm before and gun control advocates say the industry is playing on people’s fears to drive sales.
Giffords is an American advocacy and research organisation focused on promoting gun control.
It takes its name from Gabby Giffords, the former Democratic member of the US House of Representatives, who survived being shot in the head at a constituency meeting in Tucson in 2011.
Its senior policy director David Chipman, himself a retired federal agent, said: “I’m extremely concerned about those people who, in this time of uncertainty and fear, have been sold on the gun industry narrative that in uncertain times, when you’re feeling out of control, your possession of a firearm will satisfy that fear.”
He added that the increase in sales appeared to be more than a blip.
“This can no longer be characterised as a spike. This is a sustained uptick in sales that has continued for an unprecedented amount of months now.”