I have decided to keep a running record of FBI-NICS checks to help keep our friends in Gun-nut Nation at least somewhat honest, although as John Feinblatt has just reminded us, keeping that bunch honest is about as easy as keeping me on a diet. But be that as it may, with certain caveats that I am going to quickly list, the monthly background check numbers published by the FBI are still an effective measurement of the health and welfare of the gun industry, which usually stands in direct opposition to the health and welfare of the general population.

The caveats about using the NICS numbers as an industry measurement are as follows:

  • Only a handful of states require that all gun transfers go through NICS, so a large number of guns move from one person to another without any paper trail being created at all.
  • On the other hand, what NICS does indicate is the number of new guns that are added to the civilian arsenal each month, and that’s the most important number of all.
  • Of course NICS doesn’t capture the new gun transfers in any universal sense, because many states opt out of the NICS system when a resident holding a concealed-carry license buys a gun.

nicsBut the bottom line is that what we do get from NICS is a very clear trend of the degree to which America is or isn’t arming up. And basically this is the trend which is most important for determining the extent to which America will continue to suffer from gun violence, because without guns, there is no gun violence – it’s as simple as that. And please, please don’t give me the bromide about all we have to do is keep the guns out of the ‘wrong hands.’ Enough already, okay?

The total NICS number for each month is comprised of 24 different categories, of which only 4 categories – handguns, long guns, other guns, multiple sales – represent contacts with the FBI call center to get authorization to sell or transfer a gun. The other categories represent either checking the validity of gun licenses, or redeeming previously-pawned guns, or transfers between individuals rather than between a dealer and a customer; in other words, background checks which don’t represent any new guns being added to the civilian arsenal at all.

I am going to start publishing a monthly NICS chart which will compare numbers over time and will cover the following categories: handguns, other guns and personal transfers of hand guns. Why only handguns and other guns? Because these are the guns we need to worry about since handguns are usually what are used in gun violence of all kinds, and other guns are assault-rifle receivers to which the owner then attaches a bolt and a barrel and he’s got a very lethal gun.

Here’s our very first chart:

Jun-17 Jun-16 2017 to date 2016 to date.
Handguns 569,149 582,821 3,777,008 4,083,589
Other Guns 29,730 49,220 195,537 218,023
Private transfers 1,884 1,198 11,845 8,231


These are some interesting numbers, and they fly in the face of comments from various Gun-nut noisemakers that there hasn’t been any ‘Trump slump’ on guns.  Well, I guess a drop of more than 306,000 new handguns hitting the market between January and June isn’t anything to worry about, and a 30% increase in background checks between private buyers and sellers clearly indicates that gun owners just won’t go along with private NICS checks. Incidentally, I’m not going to track long gun transfers, but you should know that long gun checks dropped from 2.5 million in 2016 to 2.3 million so far this year. As handguns go so does the whole gun market, oh well, oh well.

If I had to estimate, I would say that a drop in handgun and long gun sales of roughly 500,000 units means a loss of revenue for the gun industry of somewhere around $150 million bucks. I don’t think that really makes up for Wayne-o going to the White House for the Easter Egg roll.