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Interest in guns soars to record highs in the United States

The FBI registers a record of requests for criminal records, necessary for the acquisition of weapons

The high political and social polarization raises fears of an outbreak of violence in relation to the elections.

Never before had so many Americans requested their criminal records from the FBI in order to be able to acquire a weapon like this in 2020, with three months to go to the end of a year that has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic but also by the violent protests around to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the emergence of armed supremacist and far-right groups.

According to the latest data published by the FBI, until the end of September they had received 28.82 million requests for criminal records for the purchase of weapons, which exceeds the record reached in 2019, when a total of 28.36 requests were made. type, the highest number since 1998 when this issue began to be monitored.

Despite the decline in September, when there were 2.89 million checks in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Record System (NICS), the data remains the highest recorded in this month of the year to date, while July shows the monthly record in 2020, with 3.93 million.

Although the request for a criminal record does not automatically correspond to the acquisition of a weapon, it is the most approximate source in the country to know the number of weapons that are sold, since anyone who wants to acquire one must go through this prior procedure.

Experts and arms sellers have attributed the increase in sales to the pandemic, which would have pushed many citizens to acquire new pistols, rifles and other weapons for their defense. The situation in the country, in which protests against police brutality have taken place in recent months and attacks by extremist groups of both spectra have also increased, have also contributed to this.

Smith & Wesson, one of the largest arms companies in the United States, reported in September that, in the last quarter, its sales had increased 128 percent over the same period of 2019, to $ 278 million.

Its president, Mark Smith, attributed the sales record to the growing number of citizens who are acquiring arms for the first time, as well as to the ability of the company to respond to the increase in demand thanks to “its flexible manufacturing model” .

Also Sturm, Rugers & Co. has seen its sales skyrocket. Its president, Christopher Killoy, acknowledged in July that the firm was having a hard time keeping up with demand. “The incredible increase in demand has exceeded our production capacity,” he said, assuring that in the 30-year history of the firm in the industry the demand for 2020 is being “the highest we have ever seen”, including weapons of assault.

Killoy attributed the growing interest of Americans in acquiring weapons for their personal protection and that of their home “to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the protests, demonstrations and altercations that have taken place in many cities across the United States and in Ultimately, the call by some to reduce the funds and authority of various security forces. “

And not only weapons are sold, but also the ammunition to load them. In recent months there have been moments of scarcity. According to Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns, in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September, gun sales fell due to a lack of supply of some of the most demanded weapons, which “are out of stock.”

“What remains are really exotic and very expensive weapons,” he says. It is also difficult to find ammunition of the most demanded calibers, he adds, specifying that he has had to ration sales to one box of ammunition per buyer, some of whom drive up to an hour to acquire it.

As a general rule, in the United States in election year sales tend to increase, although the possibility of a victory of Democrat John Biden could also be considered as one of the factors that is pushing some Americans to acquire weapons.

If the former vice president wins, greater control of weapons is expected, in particular of the controversial semi-automatic rifles, used in some of the most serious killings in recent years, which has skyrocketed their sale in recent months.

The fact that in the homes of the United States there are a greater number of weapons raises concern, given the atmosphere of political tension that exists in the country at the gates of the presidential elections, which are preceded by allegations of possible fraud made by the president, Donald Trump.

“Trump’s irresponsible rhetoric has a long history of inspiring hate groups and by not fixing our criminal background check system, it could now be helping those same groups to arm themselves,” John Feinblatt recently told ‘Forbes’, President of Everytown for Gun Safety, a pro-gun control organization.

As Brady, a group that is committed to the prevention of armed violence, points out, in the United States there is no federal law that prohibits the presence of weapons in polling stations, but it is the competence of the states to legislate on the matter. Many of them therefore allow their presence.

The presence of firearms, warns this organization, can pose “obstacles for citizens who try to vote in person” in polling stations and can serve “as a means of intimidation.”

In this sense, according to the Guns Down America initiative, in the 2016 elections at least 85 voters in 28 states reported having seen guns in polling stations within twelve hours after having carried out a campaign to request that they go to the polls. light cases of armed intimidation.

Thus, Bruce Hoffman, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), considers that there is a “very real” risk that extremist forces disrupt the elections, noting that some of Trump’s most staunch defenders, such as the QAnon movement as well as “armed militias” have promised to “resort to violence” in the event of a defeat of the president.

The main challenge, according to Hoffman, is that it is not a “monolithic” movement but rather a whole series of groups and collectives of different levels, with “different degrees of organization and cohesion,” including white supremacists, anti-government elements. and anarchists. According to this expert, it is estimated that there could be up to 300 different armed militia groups in the country with between 15,000 and 20,000 members “well armed and often with military training, active in each state.”

“Seven months of confinement for the pandemic throughout the United States combined with the almost 13,500 demonstrations and protests that have occurred throughout the country since the murder of George Floyd – an African American who died in police custody -, the vast majority of them peaceful, they have exacerbated tensions and polarized political positions to a point perhaps not seen since the 1960s, “the CFR expert acknowledges.

As Hoffman points out, it is not known how these extremist entities will react if the November 3 result is delayed or contested, or if Trump is not re-elected. “In sum, these are elections like no American has ever experienced. The certainty of an electoral process and an orderly handover that Americans have long taken for granted is increasingly in question,” he sums up.

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