Gun Sales Set Record Again in May

FBI background checks set record for third month in a row as gun control dominates 2018 headlines

Getty Images
June 4, 2018

The number of gun-related background checks reached an all-time high once again in May, a report posted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday shows.

In May 2018, the FBI processed 2,002,992 queries through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That's more than any previous May in the system's history with May 2017 holding the previous record at 1,942,677. April 2018 saw more NICS checks than any previous April. March 2018 saw more NICS checks than any previous March.

NICS checks are considered the strongest indicator for gun sales because every gun sale made through a licensed dealer requires a NICS check and some states require the checks on used gun sales between private individuals. However, the number of NICS checks does not exactly match the number of guns sold in the United States for a number of reasons. Multiple guns can be sold during a single NICS check, most states do not require NICS checks on used sales between private individuals, and many states run NICS checks on those applying for gun-carry permits.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group, said the spike in NICS checks could be attributed more to permit checks than gun sales, though it said gun sales remained near record levels. The group produces their own analysis of the NICS numbers each month but notes that their numbers suffer from the same uncertainty affecting the FBI's underlying numbers.

"These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS," the FBI wrote in its report on the NICS numbers. "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."

The record-breaking-streak comes as the topic of gun control has dominated the national headlines. A number of survivors of the Parkland shooting, which left 17 people dead, garnered a great deal of media attention as they formed a new gun-control group and advocated for new gun bans and age restrictions on gun ownership. Republican governors in Florida and Vermont signed gun-control laws that have already resulted in legal challenges from gun-rights groups. Bump-fire stock bans have become the most popular state-level gun policy in 2018.

President Trump briefly appeared to embrace new restrictive gun-control measures in a televised meeting with lawmakers before reaffirming his support for the National Rifle Association and gun rights. Prominent Democrats have labeled the NRA "just shy of a terrorist organization," advocated for pulling kids from school until new gun-control laws are passed, and called for the confiscation of certain firearms.

The threat of new gun-control laws, especially in the wake of violent attacks, has traditionally been a driver of gun sales in the United States.

"Sales of semi-auto rifles, especially AR and AK platforms, have more than doubled in sales since the Florida shooting and subsequent media coverage of possible pending legislation," Rex McClanahan, owner of one of the biggest online gun dealers, Bud's Gun Shop, told the Washington Free Beacon in February. "This is exactly what happened after Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, etc."

He said the push to ban certain guns had ended up increasing the demand for them.

"The market on these types of guns had actually gotten very soft after Trump took office," he said. "Manufactures and distributors alike were sitting on thousands of them and the prices had dropped substantially. That inventory has now almost completely cleared out since the school shooting in Florida."

The last streak of monthly records came during the presidential election where many feared Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who said in a recording obtained by the Free Beacon that she believed the Supreme Court was wrong on gun rights, would institute new gun-control measures if elected. The record-setting streak lasted from May 2015 through November 2016.

Published under: Guns