A New Record For Yearly FBI-NICS Calls? Not So Fast.

The results for 2016 are finally in! We now know, according to the FBI, that their NICS-FBI phone center handled more than 27 million calls last year, by far the highest annual total since NICS started operating at the end of 1998. Leading up to 2016 the FBI had logged an average of 18 million calls every year since Obama showed up in DC, so no wonder that Gun-nut Nation is rejoicing with the number for 2016.

nics             There’s only one little problem with this number.  It doesn’t really tell you anything about how many new guns were sold. And that’s the only number which really means anything to the gun industry because when one person sells a used gun to someone else, the size of the civilian arsenal doesn’t increase one little bit. And when you start breaking down the FBI-NICS numbers into their component parts based on the reason for the call, things change in very interesting ways.

Let’s go back to 2009, the first year that a certified gun-grabber moved into the Big House.  Okay, he wasn’t such a gun-grabber in 2009, that didn’t really get going until after Sandy Hook.  But 2009 can serve as a point of comparison because the nearly 14 million NICS-checks were still the highest for any year up until that point in time. Of those calls, 600,000 were pawn redemptions and 4.4 million were background checks run for issuing permits; hence, actual background checks on gun sales was roughly 9 million calls.

Now we move to 2011 and total calls are 16.3 million; 700,000 from pawn shops and 5.5 million for licenses; so now gun checks are around 12 million calls, a jump of one-third.  Of course the 2013 total calls were now almost 21 million given the noise in DC after Sandy Hook, of which 14 million were gun checks with pawn redemptions and license applications eating up the rest.

Which brings us to the banner year of 2016: 11.6 million license applications, slightly less than 800,000 pawns and 14.8 million calls for gun purchased over the counter, basically the same number of gun sales as occurred in 2013.  Notice that from 2009 to 2016, calls for validating gun transfers conducted by FFL dealers increased by 55%.  Notice that pawn redemptions stayed about the same.  Notice that checks on backgrounds for gun licenses and permits increased by 160%!

Here’s the bottom line: there’s no doubt that year-to-year increases in gun sales have occurred.  Compare what happened under Obama to what happened under George W. Bush where total NICS calls went up by less than 20% over the entire eight years.  But what really drove telephone traffic to the FBI call center the last few years wasn’t any kind of skyrocketing demand for guns; it was the increase in background checks being conducted just to see if someone could own a gun.

Of the record 27 million calls received by the FBI in 2016, roughly 52% involved the purchase of a gun.  In 2015, gun checks were 57% of all calls, in 2014 it was 60% -every year while the total number of NICS calls goes up, an increasing percentage of the calls has to do with regulating gun ownership, not expanding the actual number of guns that are owned.

Believe me, I don’t think that gun makers need to sit around crying into their beer.  The gun industry is alive and well, and 14.8 million FFL gun transfers to customers in one year is still a s**tload of guns. But for those who believe that the key to reducing gun violence is through using background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands, the FBI-NICS data clearly indicates that the background check process has grown more steadily than the sale of guns themselves. Gee, who would have thought that could happen?

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