FBI: Gun Background Checks Surged During First Six Months of 2016

Emily Blatter | July 22, 2016 | 5:11pm EDT
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A researcher at the FBI's criminal justice center in Bridgeport, W.V. simulates a background check on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com)-- The number of applications for federal background checks, which are legally required for potential firearm buyers, surged during the first half of 2016, according to data released in early July by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Applications for background checks have increased 32 percent in the past year, according to the FBI. Nearly 14 million were recorded in the first six months of 2016, compared to about 10 million in the first six months of 2015.

FBI data shows that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) received 2,131,485 background-check applications in June, 39 percent more than the 1,529,057 applications that were filed in June 2015.  (See nics_data.pdf)

“There have been 26.5 million checks during the last 12 months, more than in any 12-month period previously,” the National Rifle Association (NRA) reported.

“If the present rate of checks holds through December, there will be over 32 million checks conducted this year, more than double the number conducted during President Obama’s first year in office.”

Applications tend to surge at the end of the year, near the holidays. The highest application-traffic month on record was December 2015, with 3,314,594 background checks filed - the first month since November 1998 to exceed 3 million applications.  

Further FBI data show that the rising number of background-check applications received by NICS has been a trend throughout Obama’s second term.

NICS’s top 10 highest-application traffic days have all occurred since November 2012, with the highest day - Nov. 27, 2015 - bringing in 185,345 applications.

Six of its 10 highest-traffic weeks occurred in the past eight months. However, the record week was Dec. 17 to Dec. 23, 2012, with 953,613 applications filed.

The NRA attributes the sharp upward trend in applications for legal gun ownership since 2012 to Americans’ increasing interest in defending themselves against crime and terrorism.

“Obviously in the-- kind of the fabric of the American culture in recent years, terrorism and crime have been major headline makers, and Americans increasingly feel that their self-defense is their responsibility,” said NRA spokesman Jason Brown in an interview with CNSNews.com.

“And the way by which they ensure their defense, the defense of their family and their property, is to go out, buy a firearm, receive proper training in how to use that firearm, and know and have the peace of mind that they are able to defend themselves, their families and their property in the event of an incident like crime, in the event of an incident like terrorism, etc.,” Brown continued.

“That is what we believe is one of the primary drivers for why there has been such a large increase in the number of NICS background checks,” he said.

NICS was set up in 1998 to process background checks for individuals trying to buy guns. Since then, it has received a total of 239,507,983 background check applications.

Licensed gun dealers contact NICS at the time of sale and usually receive an immediate instruction to either “proceed” or “deny.” Applications are denied for individuals with a history of mental instability, domestic abuse, illegal drug use, or crime meriting imprisonment of a year or more, according to the FBI.

However, the number of NICS background checks does not necessarily reflect the number of guns sold, according to the NRA.

“The NICS background check isn’t a perfect one-to-one science or one-to-one indicator of gun sales, because there are other reasons why a NICS background check could be performed,” Brown told CNSNews.

“However, we know that over the past year, we’ve seen record numbers of these background checks each month, and we know that there is a definitive correlation in the number of these background checks as they relate to the numbers of firearms being purchased by American citizens,” he said.

According to an NRA report, “The trend in [background] checks makes clear that Americans are acquiring firearms at a record pace.”

“[NICS checks] continue to deliver data undermining gun control supporters’ perennial boast that gun ownership is declining. If anything, the data suggest that the opposite is true,” it said.

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