The FBI conducted more gun-related background checks this January than in any other January since the system was created.
With 2,545,802 checks processed through the National Instant Background Check System, January 2016 beat the previous record, set in January 2013, by 50,326 checks. Though January's number represents a drop from the all-time single month record set in December 2015, it is also marks the ninth month in a row that has set a record. It is also the third month in a row with more than two million background checks.
The number of background checks conducted by the FBI is widely considered the most reliable estimate for gun sales in the country since all sales conducted through federally licensed gun dealers and some sales conducted by private parties are required by law to obtain a check.
However, the number is not a one-to-one representation of gun sales. Many private sales are not included in the system. Also, in some cases a single background check can apply to the sale of multiple guns. Some states use background checks for their gun carry permitting process, which does not involve the sale of a gun.
The new record comes in the wake of President Obama's executive action targeting gun sales. The White House had signaled that those selling even one firearm in their lifetime could be subject to federal licensing requirements, though it was later revealed that the written guidance issued by the ATF was at odds with the administration's public comments.
A steady stream of comments supportive of gun control by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton may also have contributed to record sales.
A move by Virginia Democrats to unilaterally eliminate gun carry reciprocity agreements with 25 states also received national attention in January. The policy was instituted by the state's attorney general after the party failed to recapture the state Senate despite millions from gun control advocates. The backlash to the plan was strong enough that the state's Democratic governor reversed it in a deal with Republicans.
The Second Amendment Foundation said the continued spike in gun sales was in line with other indicators from around the country.
“The Boston Globe reported last week that tens of thousands of new gun licenses were issued in Massachusetts last year,” Alan Gottlieb, the group's founder, said in a statement. “In New Jersey, with tough gun laws, applications for gun purchases last year nearly tripled over what they were in 2005. One Missouri county reported a three-month back-up in processing permit applications. A county sheriff in North Carolina is so overwhelmed, he’s asking that citizens make appointments."
“Add to this the fact that scores of sheriffs and police chiefs have encouraged citizens to arm themselves. Suddenly, gun ownership sounds like a very good idea to people concerned about personal safety," Gottlieb said.