The FBI ran more than three background checks per second ‒ more than 175,000 total ‒ on Black Friday, thanks to the largest ever number of guns purchased on the biggest retail day in the US. It was the second most reviews ever during a single day.
Purchasing guns on Black Friday ‒ the start of the holiday shopping season in the United States ‒ has become an American tradition over the past few years. This year was no different, according to the number of federal background checks run by the FBI. It’s an incomplete, though telling, statistic: the agency has three business days to complete its review of each applicant, who could be purchasing multiple guns, before the weapon is released for sale.
“We’re processing approximately two checks per second. And starting around 11 a.m., we’ll bump that up to three checks per second,” Kimberly Del Greco, an FBI manager with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), told NPR’s Rachel Martin Friday morning.
“We started processing background checks at 4:30 this morning. As of 8 a.m., we processed 23,000 checks. From the hour of 9 to 10 before I took the call, we brought in another 10,000 checks,” she added.“So we are truly seeing that spike that we thought we would get today. We’re expecting to process about 144,000 checks. And we also expect today to hit our 200 millionth check since the inception of NICS.”
In reality, Del Greco’s team of 600 FBI contractors and employees processed well more than expected ‒ 175,000 background checks ‒ over the course of the day. They brought in an additional 100 workers than usual. And no one was allowed to take leave.
“The challenge is to have staff keep up with this volume. We do that by limiting personal leave, asking employees to work extra shifts and reutilizing former… employees to serve in NICS during this busy period,” FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer told CNN Friday afternoon, before the final numbers were in.
On Black Fridays, the work can be grueling: One woman took a call that lasted four hours when a dealer phoned in the maximum 99 checks, the Associated Press reported.
“Rules had to be stretched,” recalled Sam Demarco, her supervisor. “We can’t transfer calls. Someone had to sit in her seat for her while she went to the bathroom.”
The NICS in West Virginia does about 58,000 checks on a typical day – a figure that triples on Black Friday. Although stores can use the FBI’s online E-Check System, nearly half the checks are called in to three call centers in Kentucky, Texas and West Virginia. Call center operators check individuals against their name, address, birth date and Social Security Number, but have no access to privileged information about buyers’ backgrounds. Nor do they make decisions ‒ that’s the responsibility of the gun shop.
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