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Black Friday Gun Buyers Swamp Federal Background Check Systems

December 02, 2014

For those out there who purchased a firearm of some kind on Black Friday, be it a curiosity, a hunting weapon, a home defense tool or something else, one point was stunningly clear: anyone who bought a gun on Black Friday was not alone. New reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggest that there was actually a record number of background checks conducted on Friday, with the total number surpassing the 175,000 mark.

For those not familiar, in order to purchase a firearm in the United States, a background check is done via the FBI, a process which has three days to accomplish. Should the process not complete by then, the decision reportedly falls to the individual store itself, though larger vendors generally won't make the sale without a completed check. Gun purchases can be denied to some potential purchasers—usually issues of previous criminal behavior or mental health top the list—but the process is normally to be done quickly. As such, the FBI—who conducts the checks in question—has a substantial call center devoted to running such checks, staffed with a combination of FBI employees and contract staffers measuring around 600 strong. But even these 600 could scarcely keep up, and were called on to work 17-hour days in a bid to winnow down the piles of background checks.

However, while this proved a record-breaking Black Friday, it wasn't enough to top the previous record of December 21, 2012, which saw fully 177,000 background checks conducted. With the FBI averaging about three checks every second, there is clearly plenty of volume in the system to be addressed. The FBI has tools to react to these changes in quantity—keeping personal leave to a minimum, offering extra shifts to employees, even calling in retirees and the like to serve a turn in the barrel, so to speak—but even with these measures, there are still some failures that take place. On average, over 500 checks per day fail due to incomplete records.

While any of a variety of things could be said about the concept of the background check system in general, one thing is clear. The FBI has discovered the value of scalability in the call center, and should be putting it more to use. It's likely become clear that certain days are busier than others—the FBI's Stephen Fischer notes that Black Friday is usually one of the busiest days when it comes to background checks—so the FBI knows that it's going to need more help some days than others. Instead of accepting that around 500 background checks a day fail because of incomplete information or the like, why not augment the staff going into those busier days? Modern call center systems allow for this scalability need to be met better than ever, so the FBI can bring in more staffers and take care of the issue.

The modern call center environment can be difficult to manage. No company wants to have much more staff than it needs to carry on and expand on its hands, and surely the FBI is no different. However, no company wants to miss out on opportunities, and not having enough staff on hand to follow through with said opportunities can be just as big a cost as having too many on hand. Scalability, therefore, is the means to allow for the best of both worlds, and the FBI's background check issues prove that quite clearly.

Edited by Maurice Nagle