Nearly 2.8 million gun-purchase background checks were processed last month, according to FBI data released Tuesday — an indication that renewed talk of gun control in the wake of February’s Parkland school massacre is fueling a record nationwide firearms buying spree.
Close to 335,000 more checks were run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) last month compared to a year earlier. That’s the biggest year-over-year monthly increase since President Obama left office.
The uptick is likely a reaction not so much to the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as it is to the push in Congress and a number of states to enact stricter controls on gun purchases.
The numbers are also consistent with a reported upswing in National Rifle Association membership numbers and donations to the NRA post-Parkland, said Robert Spitzer, a professor at SUNY Cortland who has written multiple books about gun policy.
“It is certainly not likely to last, given how these numbers fluctuate historically,” Mr. Spitzer said. “In the months to come, there will certainly be pressure on Congress to act, but it will not — no way. So that will relieve political pressure.”
Congress included a compromise measure to incentivize more states and federal agencies to share their records of prohibited buyers with NICS in the $1.3 trillion spending bill it passed last month.
But there’s been little indication that federal lawmakers plan to pass more far-reaching legislation that would involve tighter background checks or bans on assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Mr. Spitzer said in an email there could be more action on gun laws in the states, but that those would be unlikely to prompt or sustain a similar upswing in background checks.
The checks run through NICS don’t represent a 1-to-1 correlation to gun sales, but are used as a general approximation of the market.
There have been temporary spikes in the checks in the wake of other prominent mass shootings, including the December 2012 Newtown school massacre, the December 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, and the June 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
But Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said the most recent upswing should continue as long as the threat of potential new gun controls is front and center.
“This increase in sales will continue, no doubt, as long as the anti-gun left continues its vocal push — using the Parkland tragedy to divest Americans of their constitutionally-protected rights,” Mr. Pratt said.
February also saw an increase of about 100,000 checks compared to February 2017 — but before that there had been five straight monthly declines amid what some in the industry were calling a “Trump slump.”
In contrast to Mr. Obama, whose calls for new gun controls helped spur record sales during his administration, Mr. Trump campaigned on an expressly pro-gun rights platform, lessening the fears that activists’ Second Amendment rights would be curtailed once he was elected.
Several gun control groups didn’t respond to questions about the March increase, but have said they fear gun rights groups will try to jump-start sales in the relatively down market by pursuing bills to expand concealed carry rights and passing other pro-gun legislation.
“Gun industry profits have slumped under this administration, and so the NRA has pushed for dangerous legislation that would profit gun manufacturers at the expense of public safety,” Cassidy Geoghegan, a spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, said last month.
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