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Background Checks

January Was Another Record Month for Federal Gun Background Checks

The FBI ran more of them last month than in any other January since the system went live.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) ran more background checks on gun sales last month than in any other January on record.

The National Instant Background Check System (NICS) processed 2,545,802 checks from January 1 through 31, according to FBI figures first reported in the Washington Free Beacon. January’s total is a sizable decline from December 2015 — which shattered the single-month record with 3,314,594 processed — but marks the third most background checks in a single month since NICS was implemented in 1998.

January’s numbers follow a string of record-breaking months for background checks: May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December of 2015 all set respective records. In late November, the FBI announced that Black Friday surpassed its single-day background check record with 185,345 processed in a 24-hour period — or slightly more than two background checks every second.

Gun sales and background checks often spike after mass shootings and when the prospect (either real or imagined) of stricter gun laws stirs fears of reduced access to firearms. There were no high-profile mass shootings in January, but the month did bring new regulations. On January 5, President Barack Obama unveiled a suite of executive actions designed to tighten the so-called “gun show loophole,” increase resources for the enforcement of existing gun laws, and provide an already overloaded NICS with added personnel. The announcement spurred a flurry of news reports detailing increased gun sales around the country. Around the same time, guns also became a centerpiece in the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

The number of background checks processed by the FBI is the best available measure of total gun sales, but it remains an imperfect metric. A NICS background check represents a single transaction — not the number of guns sold in each sale. The totals also exclude an unknown quantity of private gun sales, which in 32 states aren’t subject to background checks. And the state of Kentucky adds several thousand additional checks to the FBI’s tally: Police there run fresh background checks on concealed weapons license holders every month.

[Photo: Flickr user Marcin Wichary]