Federal background checks dip big in January

After a record setting year for the federal gun background check system in 2016, federal data released Friday shows a downtrend, in a possible affirmation of what some in the gun industry fear is the new normal under gun-friendly President Donald Trump.

There were 1,038,365 adjusted background checks entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System last month, a 43.7 percent decrease from the month before. Adjusted background checks subtract non-sales related checks from the total monthly number, giving the industry an adjusted figure used to approximate gun sales nationwide.

The 43.7 percent dip from December to January may be a bit misleading, however, because December 2016 saw more adjusted checks than any other month in 2016 — a year with the highest number of NICS checks since the FBI started collecting the data in 1998. Still, gun checks declined 23.8 percent last month compared to January 2016, a significant decrease year over year.

Gun groups called former President Obama the “best gun salesman” in America, with gun sales soaring anytime he or other Democrats pushed for major gun control or specific gun bans. But with the NRA-backed, pro-Second Amendment Trump, it’s a different story. Gun stocks took a tumble the day after his election win in November. Sturm, Ruger & Company has seen share prices take more than a 20 percent decline since November, and Smith & Wesson – now American Outdoor Brands Corp – has seen a 26 percent drop in the same period.

Still, there was an increase in background checks in the months after Trump clinched the nomination, and before he took office. Some of that can be chalked up to buying surges linked to specific gun laws taking effect. In California, for instance, long gun checks soared in December 2016 ahead of a Jan. 1 ban on weapons with so-called bullet buttons.

While federal data shows January is historically a slow month for gun background checks compared to other months of the year, industry experts are waiting for sales stagnation under Trump.

“I think people are going to slow down and the industry as a whole is going to adjust,” Brian Skinner, CEO of Kalashnikov USA told CNN Money last month.

Looking at the numbers side by side, there were 1,038,365 adjusted checks in January 2017, compared to 1,845,847 the month before. Long gun checks saw a 54 percent decrease in background checks from December 2016 to January 2017. Handguns saw a 33 percent decrease in checks in the same period.

Comparing FBI NICS Data


  • 1,038,365 adjusted checks in January 2017
  • 1,845,847 adjusted checks in December 2016
  • 1,362,847 adjusted checks in January 2016


  • 366,099 checks in January 2017
  • 795,473 checks in December 2016
  • 449,324 checks in January 2016


  • 562,597 checks in January 2017
  • 844,966 checks in December 2016
  • 789,552 checks in January 2016

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