2017: 2nd busiest year for background checks, 4th busiest for sales


The federal background check system processed 13.1 million gun sales in 2017, making it the fourth busiest year on record for sales and challenging the notion there was a considerable market slowdown with a Republican in the White House.

Last year’s gun sales trailed 2016 — the busiest year on record — by 12 percent, a Guns.com analysis of FBI data showed. The agency published the year-end total of applications processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which licensed gun dealers use to screen for prohibited buyers, on Wednesday.

Still, the FBI processed more than 25.2 million applications through the NICS last year, ranking 2017 as the second busiest for total checks since the agency began keeping track in 1998. Overall, background checks trailed 2016 by 8 percent — a fact that sent share prices for major gun makers tumbling Wednesday.

Some 44 percent of last year’s checks represented permit applications and renewals. Guns.com estimates sales by calculating the sum total of transfers in the NICS’s handgun, long gun, multiple and other categories — though it’s not a perfect measurement. Aside from permit checks, 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.


According to federal data, the FBI processed applications for 7.2 million handguns and 5.2 million long guns last year. December proved the busiest month of 2017 for both categories, an anticipated side effect of the holiday shopping season — typically the industry’s most profitable time of year.

Fourth quarter 2017 ranked as the busiest for NICS checks, with the FBI processing nearly 4 million applications in October, November and December. Two mass shootings — in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas — spiked demand over a dismal third quarter that was weighed down by the lingering effects of three hurricanes.

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The rock-bottom prices teased as Black Friday deals meant NICS experienced its highest volume day ever on Nov. 24 with over 203,000 applications submitted in just 24 hours.

Major gun manufacturers anticipate diminished annual earnings in comparison to the watermark year of 2016 — when 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 with promotional pricing — a trend the industry believes may be the new normal for far longer than initially anticipated.

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