Mark Twain once said, “the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” and for those in the GVP who might take some comfort in the idea that the great gun surge under Obama is finally coming to an end, Twain’s missive might apply here as well. Because despite a recent tumble in the value of Smith & Wesson stock and a collapse in the prices of AR-15 assault rifles, the NICS background check numbers are singing a different tune.
Now hold the presses! After all, according to The Trace, the FBI has just announced that NICS checks in April dropped 16% from the previous month, from 2.5 million checks down to 2.1 million. And the latter figure represents a drop of 35% in NCS checks since the high water-mark of 3.3 million checks was hit in December, 2015. So in the face of those numbers, how can I sit here and tell you that gun sales are still strong?
Answer: Because numbers from NICS have to be understood for what they really are. First and foremost, the monthly number of NICS checks announced by the FBI is anywhere between 30% and 50% higher than the NICS checks that occur when a gun is transferred or sold. The NICS system is used by states that want to check the validity of licenses to own or carry guns, a NICS background check is also performed every time someone walks into a pawn shop and redeems one of their own guns. Of the 2.5 million checks conducted in March, 2016, more than 1.2 million involved something other than the sale of a gun.
If you go back to December, 2012, the month that shattered all previous months for gun sales due to a combination of Obama’s re-election and the tragedy at Sandy Hook, handgun and long gun NICS checks that month reached more than 2 million, while license checks were one-quarter of that total, and nearly half of all license checks came from Kentucky, which alone of the 50 states submits all resident gun licenses for a background check every month. Kentucky’s license checks now run more about 300,000 every month, but license checks for the entire country are now in excess of 1 million monthly, which is a much greater increase than anything having to do with the sale of guns.
If we assume, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t, that regulating guns as a response to gun violence starts with vetting the qualifications of everyone who owns a gun, then the growth in NICS license checks is a positive step in that direction and should not be ignored. At the same time, using the FBI’s number of total NICS checks to judge the gun industry’s health or lack thereof doesn’t necessarily work. Yes, NICS checks for guns did, in fact, decline by 15% from March to April of this year, but handgun checks comparing April, 2015 to April, 2016, went up by the same amount.
Yesterday I received an email from Chris Cox asking me to sign a petition demanding that President Obama stop his anti-gun executive actions NOW! The email says that we (gun owners) are in the “fight of our lives” because Obama intends to go around Congress and unilaterally take away our guns. I’ve been getting the same email from the NRA for the past twenty years, and while it doesn’t necessarily motivate me to go out and buy another gun, that’s only because I own about ten times more guns than I actually need.
Come to think of it, I don’t really need any of the four Glocks, two Colts, five Smiths and two Walther pistols (among other guns) that I currently own. I just like guns. And if I walk into a gun shop today and see another banger that I like, I’ll happily submit to a NICS check in order to own that gun. And that holds true for every other gun nut who walks into a shop.