February was the third busiest month on record for federal background checks on gun sales.

The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) processed more than 2.6 million checks from February 1 to 29, according to FBI figures released Wednesday. February’s total marks a slight increase from January and falls shy only of December 2012, when 2.7 million checks were recorded, and December 2015, when the FBI completed an all-time high 3.3 million checks.

The numbers continue a streak of historic background check totals: In 2015, new monthly records were set for May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December, a run that has continued in 2016 as January and February each topped the old highs for those months.The previous February record was set in 2013, two months after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Late last fall, the FBI announced that Black Friday had captured the single-day record for background checks with 185,345 processed in a 24-hour period — or slightly more than two background checks every second.

Mass shootings and political pressure to tighten gun laws are commonly believed to boost background check figures, as more people buy guns out of fear of violence and in anticipation of possible new firearms restrictions. February came after President Barack Obama announced executive actions to reduce gun violence at the start of the year, and the month ended with high-profile shootings in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Hesston, Kansas, leading some local outlets to report an influx in gun sales.

Background check totals are considered the best possible measure of gun sales. They do not precisely correlate to number of guns sold, however. A single check may cover a purchase of several guns. Many checks are also performed for concealed carry license applications, not gun sales. At least one state, Kentucky, runs repeated NICS checks on concealed carriers to make sure they have not violated the terms of the license. And many private transactions involving unlicensed gun sellers are not subject to background check requirements.

[Photo: Flickr user Matthew Burpee]