February continued the recent trend of gun-related background checks falling from record levels since former President Obama left office and President Trump was inaugurated.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 2,234,817 checks in February, according to FBI documents. That's a retreat of nearly 400,000 checks from last February.
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The slowing but still historically high sales levels come on the heels of the highest year in history for gun sales. The FBI processed more than 27.5 million NICS checks in 2016. That's millions more than the previous record set in 2015.
NICS checks are widely considered the most reliable metric for how many guns were sold in a given time period since they are required on nearly all sales conducted by licensed dealers and between private parties in some states. They are not, however, an exact measure of actual sales because most states don't require NICS checks on sales between private parties, and more than one gun can be sold during a single check.
"These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS," the FBI noted in its report. "They do not represent the number of firearms sold. Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale."
Gun rights advocates have long argued that President Obama's support for gun control drove sales to record levels and Hillary Clinton's continued support for it kept them there during the campaign. Now that Donald Trump is president, they say the motivation to buy guns for fear they may soon be banned has receded. That, in turn, has driven sales down.
"Without the continued national threat to gun rights from Obama and Clinton, gun sales have backed off new record highs," said Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation.
Still, Gottlieb said, there are many other factors such as gun control pushes at the state level, terrorism, and violent protests that are driving people to purchase guns.
"Sales are still going to be at high levels due to threats to gun rights in states like California, Connecticut, and New Jersey," he said. "In addition, as people watch violent riots on television by left wing demonstrators, there is a new reason to purchase firearms for self-protection."