Federal background checks for gun sales and permits had a strong finish in 2017, according to federal data.
The FBI processed nearly 2.6 million applications through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System last month — the fourth busiest December since the agency began keeping track two decades ago.
Estimated gun sales — the sum total of transfers in the NICS’s handgun, long gun, multiple and other categories — exceeded 1.5 million, making it the strongest month of 2017. Sales increased more than 12 percent over November.
Following a trend witnessed all year long, however, last month’s sales declined nearly 13 percent over 2016, the busiest on record for background checks.
Background checks serve as a proxy measure for gun sales, however, the measurement isn’t perfect. Applications for concealed carry permits, periodic rechecks for maintaining licenses and a slew of smaller categories for pawns, redemptions, rentals and other rare situations undercut the total amount of checks processed in one month. Also, dealers submit one background check application per sale — not per gun purchased.
Dealers transferred more than 784,000 handguns and nearly 698,000 long guns in December, according to federal data. It was the busiest month all year long for both categories.
Comparatively speaking, however, last month’s estimated sales pale in comparison to 2015, when the San Bernardino shooting and the threat of congressional action on gun control pushed transfers over 2.1 million in a single month — including 1.2 million handguns and 873,000 long guns.
Still, 2017 ranks as the second busiest year in NICS history, tallying more than 24.9 million background checks. It’s still a 9 percent decline over 2016 — a factor that sent shares for Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger and Co. and Vista Outdoor tanking by 7.7 percent, 5.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively.
Gun makers and retailers alike anticipated a boost in demand as the holiday shopping season approached — historically the industry’s most profitable time of year. Background checks on Black Friday broke records, clocking in at over 203,000 applications in just one day, the busiest in FBI history.
Major gun manufacturers still anticipate diminished annual earnings in comparison to the watermark year of 2016 — when multiple mass shootings and the fear of looming gun control under another four years of a Democratic presidential administration pressured consumers into buying guns and ammunition.
President Donald Trump’s surprise victory diminished threats of stricter firearm regulations, leaving manufacturers and retailers to sell off excess inventory at rock-bottom prices — a trend the industry believes may be the new normal for far longer than initially anticipated.