Gun-buying spree wanes after post-Newtown high
Background checks hit all-time high of 2.8 million year ago
Federal gun-purchase background checks ticked up in October, but analysts say the surge in applications to buy guns, which peaked in the months after the Newtown school shootings in Connecticut, likely has leveled off.
After hitting an all-time high of 2.8 million in December 2012, checks run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System remained high through May when compared to previous year tallies. Sales then dropped for the next four months, though October saw a slight increase compared to October 2012, according to the latest numbers.
“I know there was a period after Newtown when you couldn’t go into a Wal-Mart and not be able to find an AR-15 variant,” said David Chipman, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “People are opportunistic buyers — they bought them because they thought they were going to be banned.”
The federal background checks are not a one-to-one correlation to gun sales; for example, some of the checks are performed on active concealed carry permits, among other nonsale actions. But despite such imperfections, the number of checks performed is widely considered a fairly good proxy for the number of guns sold.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the guns and ammunition industry, keeps its own adjusted tally every month to account for such checks that don’t translate directly into sales.
Its data showed 38 straight months of year-over-year increases through July 2013, before a drop in August for the first time since May 2010. By the association’s metric, checks increased in September but dipped back down in October.
It’s not just that demand for guns may finally be plateauing. New laws may also be biting.
While President Obama’s ambitious plans to ban sales of some firearms and high-capacity magazines failed, many states, including Connecticut, New York, and Maryland, did manage to approve restrictions.
Maryland’s new law, which took effect Oct. 1, adds 45 guns to a list of banned weapons and requires new handgun owners to obtain a qualifying license — a process that includes four hours of training taught by a certified instructor and time spent at a firing range.
Vince Saulsbury of Duffy’s Gun Room in Sparks, Md., said that as a result, his typical volume of several hundred handgun sales per month plummeted to three in October.
He also said there is typically a bit of a lull before hunting season starts after Thanksgiving and the holiday buying season revs up.
“It’s about as busy as it is most years,” he said, though he also added that the new state law banned “all of our breadand-butter rifles.”
John Hudak, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, pointed out that the uptick in background checks and gun sales predates Newtown, but the increase did jump dramatically around the time of the shooting, when gunman Adam Lanza killed his mother and then murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School before taking his own life.
“There was a pretty noticeable Newtown effect,” Mr. Hudak said, adding that the figures for the coming months will be interesting and could provide a better window into any discernible trend.
“Those, I’m certain, will be dramatically lower than their comparisons from the year before,” he said.
“People are opportunistic buyers — they bought [
because they thought they were going to be banned,” says David Chipman, a former ATF agent.