During COVID-19 run on guns, background checks surged to highest point in nearly 3 years | Wednesday Morning Coffee

April 15, 2020 7:18 am

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The scenes of Pennsylvanians making a run on guns and ammunition in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic might end up being some of the most enduring images of our very strange time. And now, thanks to some newly released Pennsylvania State Police data, we also have a clearer idea of how many aspiring gun purchasers were turned away because of blemishes on their records.

On Tuesday, the State Police released first quarter data on background checks conducted through the agency’s Pennsylvania Instant Check System, or PICS. The system is used by county sheriffs, the Philadelphia Police Department, and licensed firearms dealers in Pennsylvania “to determine an individual’s legal ability to acquire a license to carry firearms or obtain a firearm through a purchase or transfer,” the State Police said in a statement released Tuesday.

Here’s a look at that data. And then after the jump, a few words about what it means.

(Source: Pennsylvania State Police)

The PICS system processed 304,876 checks through the first quarter of 2020, an increase of 38,434 from the first quarter of 2019. Trooper Brent Miller, a spokesman for the agency, confirmed Tuesday that the data includes last month’s rush on gun sales.

The busiest day for requests came on March 20, when the system processed 8,346 background checks. It was the highest number of checks since Black Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, when the system processed 9,178 checks, Miller told the Capital-Star. The top three busiest days were rounded out by March 16 (7,704 checks) and March 19 (7,313 checks).

Miller cautioned against reading too much into the number of people who were denied, saying those numbers regularly fluctuate. Nonetheless, there was a year-over-year increase of 1,606 people denied in the first quarter of 2020, compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Indeed, here’s a look at those same numbers comparing the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019, courtesy of State Police data.

(Source: Pa. State Police)

For background, here’s how that referral process works: “In Pennsylvania, a person commits a felony of the third degree if they make a false oral or written statement on any federal or state agency form or willfully presents false identification that is likely to deceive a firearm seller, licensed dealer, or licensed manufacturer. During the PICS process, individuals may also be identified as having an active warrant for their arrest,” the State Police said in a statement Tuesday.

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Setting up an inevitable showdown with the Wolf administration, the state House passed legislation Tuesday aimed at reopening parts of the state’s economyStephen Caruso has what you need to know.

That House vote, and the Senate votes likely to come this week, come after state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine warned Tuesday that it could still be a while before it’s safe enough to send Pennsylvanians back to work.

The state’s child abuse hotline is now run out of employees’ homes, but it’s receiving far fewer tips than normal, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

With businesses struggling, the Wolf administration has temporarily waived some sales tax pre-paymentsErie Correspondent Hannah McDonald reports.

From our partners at the Philadelphia TribuneDistrict Attorney Larry Krasner and Chief Public Defender Keir Bradford-Grey have cheered the Wolf administration’s decision to release some prisoners — but they want the state to go further.

From our partners at the Pittsburgh CurrentHere’s a timeline of what we know — and what we don’t — about the COVID-19 pandemic in the Allegheny County Jail.

And from our partners at the Central Voice: Meet the Hershey businessman who’s trying to plan for life beyond the pandemic.

On our Commentary Page this morning: The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need to end cash bail in the state, advocate Candace McKinley argues. And the pandemic has made the inequities in public education impossible to ignore, says Andrea Custis of the Urban League.

(Image via

Philadelphia has confirmed the first inmate death from COVID-19 in the city jails, the Inquirer reports.
Black elected officials in Pittsburgh are calling for more state COVID-19 aidPittsburgh City Paper reports.
PennLive profiles the state official who’s in charge of bringing COVID-19 news to Pennsylvania’s deaf and hard of hearing population.
The pandemic has claimed more victims at a Lehigh Valley senior care facility, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

The pandemic could lead to a ‘surge’ in foreclosures in Philadelphia — but there is help, WHYY-FM reports.
The PA Post explains the debate over reopening construction projects in the state.
Labor and progressive groups are teaming up for a 2020 organizing effort in Pennsylvania, PoliticsPA reports. runs down the state-level latest on the pandemic.
After some rare bipartisan agreement, Congress won’t be back in Washington D.C. until May at the earliestRoll Call reports.

What Goes On.
It’s the House’s turn to go on a 12-hour call. The Senate returns to session at 11 a.m.
Time TBD: Daily COVID-19 briefing.

Heavy Rotation.
We’re huge fans of Washington D.C.-based electronica outfit Thievery Corporation. Here’s one from their recent live album ‘Symphonik,’ it’s the classic ‘Marching the Hate Machines.‘ Turn this one on, and imagine you’re in the world’s most chill lounge.

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
It’s Jackie Robinson Day, a day to celebrate and honor one of the game’s greats, and true trailblazer. Here’s the complete schedule of vintage games and documentaries that will be streaming all day.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.