There are three kinds of events that gun dealers can count on to boost sales: mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and Black Friday sales.
As measured by the number of background checks processed by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), this year’s string of high-profile shootings had already encouraged record-breaking sales figures even before anecdotal reports emerged about a new binge set off by the Paris attacks. In June, July, September, and again in October, the division recorded new monthly records for the number of background checks it performed.
Meanwhile, since the system was established, Black Friday has consistently ranked near the top of the list for the most background checks performed in a single day, claiming three of the top 10 highest volumes for a 24-hour period from 1998–2014.
The confluence of those two trend lines came together on November 27, spokesman Stephen Fischer tells The Trace. The Bureau says this Black Friday shattered the single-day record with 185,345 background checks processed in a 24-hour period — or slightly more than two background checks every second. (The total fell just short of the Bureau’s estimate of 190,000 checks.)
Friday’s record-breaking number of checks reshuffled a ranking heavy on new entries: the second busiest day for background checks ever was recorded just last year, on Black Friday 2014. On November 28, 2014, the FBI performed 175,754 checks, only 1,416 fewer than December 21, 2012, which came exactly a week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Black Fridays in 2013 and 2012 rank at #10 and #5, respectively. The rest of the top 10 slots are held by several dates immediately following Sandy Hook, and a slew a days in late February and early March 2014, when North Carolina submitted an unusually large number of checks for concealed carry permits.
Here was the full top 10 list of busiest background check days, including the FBI’s original projection for this Friday, which anticipated even greater volume:
Retailers advertise Black Friday gun sales just like any other. Cabela’s, one of the nation’s largest outdoor equipment chains, will slash as much as $200 off a variety of guns and ammo: Walther semi-automatic pistols, Beretta shotguns, Smith & Wesson AR-style semi-automatic rifles, to name a few. Sportsman’s Warehouse and Bass Pro Shops are both offering similar deals.
The FBI’s background check numbers come with caveats: As seen in the late February-early March 2014 bubble, many checks are for concealed carry permits, not actual gun sales. Kentucky runs a new check on each concealed carry license holder each month. And of course, the FBI’s numbers don’t include private gun sales, many of which do not require a background check. A forthcoming study conducted by Harvard researchers found that roughly 40 percent of respondents had acquired their most recent firearm without going through a background check. Despite those vagaries, the FBI’s NICS numbers are widely accepted as the best proxy for total gun sales in a given time period.
When it comes to measuring units sold, background check numbers actually provide more detail on gun sales than is available for more mainstream retail products. Those wishing to gauge the relative Black Friday performance of big ticket items, like video game consoles — figuring out whether the Xbox One beat out the PS4 last year, for instance — must often resort to iffy crowdsourced data. Most large companies and retail industry analysts instead focus on total revenues, not units moved. All considered, the FBI background check numbers remain the best way to measure how the number of guns in American hands — believed to be at least 310 million — continues to swell.
[Photo: Cabela’s catalogue]