Gun back­ground checks ap­proach record in 2019

Dems’ call for tighter re­stric­tions trig­gers gun pur­chase rush

Orlando Sentinel - - NATIONAL & WORLD - By Lisa Marie Pane

Back­ground checks on gun pur­chases in the U.S. are climb­ing to­ward a record high this year, re­flect­ing what the in­dus­try says is a rush by peo­ple to buy weapons in re­ac­tion to the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates’ calls for tighter re­stric­tions.

By the end of Novem­ber, more than 25.4 mil­lion back­ground checks — gen­er­ally seen as a strong in­di­ca­tor of gun sales — had been con­ducted by the FBI, putting 2019 on pace to break the record of 27.5 mil­lion set in 2016, the last full year Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was in the White House.

On Black Fri­day, the FBI ran 202,465 checks.

Some an­a­lysts ques­tion how ac­cu­rately the back­ground check fig­ures trans­late into gun sales, since some states run checks on ap­pli­ca­tions for con­cealed­carry per­mits, too, and some pur­chases in­volve mul­ti­ple firearms. But the num­bers re­main the most re­li­able method of track­ing the in­dus­try.

In the years since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice, the in­dus­try has strug­gled through what has been re­ferred to as the Trump Slump, a falloff in sales that re­flected lit­tle worry among gun own­ers about gun con­trol ef­forts.

“The Trump Slump is real, but the politics of guns has changed a lit­tle bit over the last year,” said Adam Win­kler, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, School of Law and an expert on gun rights and politics. “As we’re com­ing up upon an­other pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Don­ald Trump is vul­ner­a­ble, and the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial con­tenders are fall­ing all over them­selves to pro­pose more ag­gres­sive gun re­forms than their op­po­nents.”

Trump has been viewed as one of the most gun­friendly pres­i­dents in mod­ern his­tory and has boasted of strong sup­port from the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. He has ad­dressed ev­ery one of its an­nual con­ven­tions since the 2016 cam­paign, and the pow­er­ful gun lobby pumped about $30 mil­lion into ef­forts to elect him.

Still, hopes of ex­panded gun rights un­der Trump’s watch haven’t ma­te­ri­al­ized. Legislatio­n that would make it eas­ier to buy si­lencers stalled in Congress. In ad­di­tion, Trump pushed through a ban on bump stocks, which al­low semi­au­to­matic ri­fles to mimic au­to­matic fire. The gun­man who killed 58 peo­ple in Las Ve­gas in 2017 in the dead­li­est mass shoot­ing in mod­ern U.S. his­tory used such a de­vice.

The in­dus­try has been go­ing through one of its tough­est pe­ri­ods, with some gun­mak­ers, such as Rem­ing­ton Arms, fil­ing for bank­ruptcy. More re­cently, Smith & Wes­son’s parent com­pany, Amer­i­can Out­door Brands, an­nounced plans to spin off its firearms unit, and Colt said it would sus­pend pro­duc­tion of AR-15 ri­fles.

The crowded field of Democrats run­ning for the White House has of­fered a va­ri­ety of pro­pos­als to cur­tail gun rights.

For­mer Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, whose state has seen re­peated mass shoot­ings this past year, went so far as to push for a manda­tory buy­back pro­gram for AR- and AK-style ri­fles be­fore drop­ping out of the race, stok­ing gun own­ers’ fears when he de­clared dur­ing a de­bate, “Hell, yes, we’re go­ing to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”

The gun in­dus­try says the fig­ures from the Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground

Check Sys­tem re­flect the Sec­ond Amend­ment politics of the White House race.

“Amer­i­cans are choos­ing to in­vest their hard-earned dol­lars in their abil­ity to ex­er­cise their rights and buy the firearms they want be­fore gun con­trol politi­cians at­tempt to reg­u­late away that abil­ity,” said Mark Oliva, spokesman for the Na­tional Shoot­ing Sports Foun­da­tion, which rep­re­sents the gun in­dus­try.

Still, some ex­perts took is­sue with the fig­ures and said it is pre­ma­ture to declare the Trump Slump is over.

“These num­bers can­not be taken be taken at face value,” said Jur­gen Brauer, a re­tired busi­ness pro­fes­sor and now chief economist at Small Arms An­a­lyt­ics, which con­sults on the firearms in­dus­try.

Brauer said the num­bers are in­creas­ingly skewed by states such as Ken­tucky that also run back­ground checks when they is­sue or re­new a per­mit to carry a con­cealed firearm. In Oc­to­ber, for ex­am­ple, the state ran more than 280,000 checks through NICS for per­mits.

“That num­ber has been ris­ing over time as in­creas­ingly states check with some fre­quency on their ex­ist­ing per­mits,” Brauer said.

The NICS sys­tem was created af­ter pas­sage of the Brady Bill, which man­dated back­ground checks to buy a firearm.

Felons and peo­ple who have been in­vol­un­tar­ily com­mit­ted to a men­tal in­sti­tu­tion are among those who can­not legally pur­chase a weapon.

LISA MARIE PANE/AP

A man looks at cases of firearms at the NRA’s 148th An­nual Meet­ings in Indianapol­is.

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