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Record number of firearms background checks in PA as more people buy guns, permits

Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania State Police announced that the third quarter of 2020 was the busiest in the history of the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS).

The department also released the number of firearms purchase denials, subsequent investigations, and arrests resulting from such investigations for the period of July 1 through September 30, 2020.

Established in 1998, PICS is used by county sheriffs, chiefs of police of cities of the first class, 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. In the third quarter of 2020, PICS completed a record 406,151 background checks. The highest total previously was 369,807, set in the first quarter of 2013.

“We began to see an increase of PICS activity in the first quarter as Pennsylvania and the rest of the country began learning about the COVID-19 pandemic, and that trend has continued,” said Captain Mark Shaver, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification.

The highest volume day in the history of PICS was November 24, 2017, when 9,178 checks were completed. The highest volume day in the third quarter of 2020 was July 23, with 7,120 completed PICS checks. The majority of background checks are completed in a matter of minutes without operator assistance.

Statistics for the third quarter of 2019 are included for comparison.

Third Quarter PICS Statistics 2019 2020
Total number of PICS checks conducted 225,214 406,151
     Number of persons denied 2,802 6,950
Total number of denials referred to law enforcement agencies 1,430 1,510
     Referred to Pennsylvania State Police 395 450
     Referred to Local Law Enforcement 1,018 1,032
     Referred to ATF 17 28
Number of individuals arrested for a warrant at point of purchase 21 93


When an individual provides false information on a state and/or federal form, an investigation is initiated, and an investigation referral is sent to the corresponding law enforcement agency.

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. Ninety-three people were taken into custody for a warrant at the point of purchase in the third quarter. From January 1 through September 30, 2020, 238 individuals have been arrested for warrants after attempting to purchase firearms.