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Got guns? Sourcing, data and subject expertise reveal record 300,000 rejected U.S. gun sales

FILE - In this Sunday, March 15, 2020, file photo, people wait in line People wait to enter a gun store in Culver City, Calif., March 15, 2020. FBI data released to the AP reveals that background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020 as in the year before, largely tracking with the record-setting surge in sales that took hold along with the coronavirus pandemic and has continued into this year. Nearly half the denied sales were for people with felony convictions.After a year of pandemic lockdowns, mass shootings are back, but the guns never went away. As the U.S. inches toward a post-pandemic future, guns are arguably more present in the American psyche and more deeply embedded in American discourse than ever before. The past year's anxiety and loss fueled a rise in gun ownership across political and socio-economic lines. (AP Photo / Ringo H.W. Chiu, File)

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At a time when gun sales in America are reaching record highs and political divisions run deep, Salt Lake City reporter Lindsay Whitehurst has become a recognized authority on shifting weapons laws at the state level. Cultivating sources on both sides of the issue, Whitehurst has earned a reputation as a fair and accurate interpreter of the national schism over guns.

That’s why Everytown for Gun Safety, a major player in the gun control lobby, turned to her with a trove of exclusive records on attempted firearms purchases that were denied by the FBI last year. Whitehurst had been working with sources at the nonprofit organization for months, and they knew she would treat the story with the objective approach AP is known for.

The data showed gun sale rejections at an all-time high,meaning more people who are barred from having guns are trying to get them anyway. Background checks blocked nearly twice as many gun sales in 2020 as in the year before,largely tracking with the record-setting surge in sales that took hold along with the coronavirus pandemic and has continued into this year.

Whitehurst dove into the statistics and worked with AP’s graphics department for a succinct picture of what the numbers mean. What emerged was the troubling fact that nearly half of the denials were from convicted felons, all at a time when fights for universal background checks continue to fail.

Whitehurst has earned a reputation as a fair and accurate interpreter of the national schism over guns.

Although lying on a firearms background check is a federal offense,Whitehurst also learned that such cases are rarely prosecuted. All of which raises the big question of who is trying to buy firearms in a volatile America and why authorities are not looking more deeply into those who try despite being banned.

For probing these questions,and her leadership on a beat that touches on some of the nation’s most fundamental and contentious rights, Whitehurst earns AP’s Best of the Week award.

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