Once again Gun-nut Nation is celebrating another month of soaring gun sales with the publication of the June NICS background check report from the FBI. And here is how the report was summarized by the NRA: “One way or the other, though, Americans are continuing to acquire guns at an unprecedented level.” And no sooner did this celebratory announcement pop out of the mouths of the folks down in Fairfax than it was immediately picked up and blasted all around Gun-nut Nation because, after all, why miss an opportunity to congratulate America for buying all those guns?
But before my friends in the Gun Violence Prevention community shake their heads and wonder why their energy and efforts appear to be so much in vain, perhaps we might actually take the trouble to read the FBI report on background checks, because what the report says is not what the NRA and Gun-nut Nation would like you to believe.
In fact, the total number of background checks run in June by those hardy folks who sit on the phones in West Virginia was 2,131,485, which was an increase of 12% over the previous month and an increase of just under 30% from June of 2015. Other than May’s number, June was also the lowest monthly total in 2016, but summer is the slow season for guns because shooting ranges don’t usually compete very well with the beach.
What do those June numbers really mean? First and most important, the number of gun transfers that are covered by NICS doesn’t not allow us to determine how many guns were sold by dealers to customers, as opposed to how many guns were transferred from one individual to another with a background check conducted when the gun was received. Washington State, for example, recorded 21,000 gun checks in June, 2015 and 32,000 checks in June, 2016, before and after the law requiring universal background checks went into effect. So at least some of the 50% increase from one June to the next had to reflect not sales by dealers, but transfers of guns that were previously owned. There are now 10 states that require background checks for private transfers (MD and PA only require checks for handgun transfers,) and these states accounted for nearly 300,000 background checks for gun transfers in June. Get it?
But the bigger news about the ‘surge’ in background checks is that it is mostly due to increased use of the FBI-NICS system to validate gun license applications as opposed to the purchase of guns. Ready? Last month, the busy little beavers at the FBI-NICS phone center processed 1,076,592 calls for background checks on guns. They also processed 983,256 calls to verify license information. In other words, of the 2,131,485 calls that Gun-nut Nation’s media hacks proclaimed as reflecting this tremendous and continued increase in gun sales, in fact, only half the calls had anything to do with the sale of guns. And almost as many calls, 46% of the total telephone traffic, were for licensing issues and had absolutely nothing to do with gun purchases at all.
Guess what happened in June, 2015? Out of a total of 1,518,852 calls to NICS, 825,111 (54%) were for gun sales, 632,027 (40%) were for licensing. In other words, from one June to the next, the percentage of calls for gun sales went down and the percentage of calls for licensing went up. And yes, thanks to The Pulse, gun background checks did increase, but nowhere to the degree that Gun-nut Nation would lead you to believe.
I’m not trying to promote the idea that America is becoming a gun-free zone. What I am saying is that if the goal of Gun Violence Prevention is to regulate gun ownership by strategies such as licensing to keep guns out of the wrong hands, then slowly but surely this is exactly what’s beginning to take place. Figures don’t lie, but there are some liars out there who will always try to figure.