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Black Friday Gun Sales Soar, Straining Background Checks


Black Friday is known for its killer deals on computers, flat-screen TVs, all kinds of things on your Christmas list. Less well known is that it is also the biggest weekend for gun purchases with great deals on firearms and ammunition. That means the folks that process the required background checks are working round-the-clock this weekend processing two requests per second. Kimberly Del Greco is as an FBI manager with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System or the NICS. We found her on Black Friday to see how they're coping with the holiday rush.

Welcome to the program, Kimberly.


MARTIN: So this is a really busy time of a year.

DEL GRECO: It is. We're processing approximately two checks per second. And starting around 11 a.m., we'll bump that up to three checks per second.

MARTIN: And I understand that NICS only has three days to process a background check after someone purchases a firearm. Why only three days?

DEL GRECO: By law, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act requires us to research the submission for three days if we feel like there might be a record that may be a disqualifier for the firearm. After the third business day, it's up to the gun dealer whether he wants to transfer the firearm.

MARTIN: What are some of the kinds of things that pop up in a background check that you're looking for?

DEL GRECO: We are looking for any federal arrests, any misdemeanors that, by state law, would disqualify someone from a firearm, anyone has a drug prohibition, mental defective records, restraining orders, anyone that as a history of domestic violence. Those are a few of our disqualifications.

MARTIN: So if you only have three days, does that end up being a problem? How often do you miss that three-day window?

DEL GRECO: It's hard. It's about 1.1 percent of the total volume of our checks go into a delayed status. But today of all days, we have approximately 600 employees processing gun checks on Black Friday. And our intent is to try and make sure that we have complete responses as fast as we can going back to those gun dealers.

MARTIN: We are taping this conversation and talking to you just as Black Friday kicks off. Do you have any early data? Are you have are able to gauge how the checks are going?

DEL GRECO: Yes. 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. 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.

MARTIN: And when was the inception of the gun check program of NICS?

DEL GRECO: November 30, 1998. So this weekend, we'll even celebrate our sweet 16 birthday.

MARTIN: And just like shopping malls hire extra help during the holidays, you do as well?

DEL GRECO: Yes. No one is allowed to take leave today. Every staff member that's here is on the phone's processing background checks.

MARTIN: Well, Kimberly Del Greco, thank you so much for talking with us. We should let you get back to work since you've got a pile of it to do.

DEL GRECO: Thank you.

MARTIN: She's a manager with the FBI talking to us about firearm background checks. Thanks so much, Kimberly.

DEL GRECO: Thank you. You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.