April 2 (UPI) -- The FBI said it completed a record 3.7 million firearm background checks last month, as gun sales increased partly due to concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The number of checks increased by about 850,000, according to FBI figures. The March total is the highest for a single month since the bureau began reporting its checks in 1998.
An analysis by The New York Times said 2 million people in the United States bought firearms last month, the highest rate since a spike in 2013 following President Barack Obama's re-election and talk of possible new gun controls that arose after the shooting attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Gun sales also surged after the 2015 shooting attack in San Bernardino, Calif., when Obama sought stricter controls of assault weapons.
"People are nervous that there's a certain amount of civil disorder that might come if huge numbers of people are sick and a huge number of institutions are not operating normally," said Timothy Lytton, a Georgia State University law professor and gun industry expert. "They may have anxiety about protecting themselves if the organs of state are starting to erode."
The Trump administration has classified gun shops as "essential" businesses that can remain open during the coronavirus emergency. Some municipalities, however, have deemed firearm stores non-essential and required that they close. Others have suspended background checks for concealed carry permits.
Kris Brown, head of the Brady Campaign -- a gun control non-profit named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was permanently disabled in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan -- said the administration's decision to exempt gun shops is the result of industry lobbying and influence.
"This is a contemptible and exploitative move by the gun lobby to put industry profits over public safety," he told The Wall Street Journal. "There is no constitutional right to immediately buy or sell guns and there certainly is no right to spread coronavirus while buying or selling guns."