Estimated gun sales eclipsed historic highs in March, according to federal data.
Applications submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System exceeded 2.7 million last month, marking the single busiest March since the FBI began keeping track in 1998.
Estimated gun sales — the sum total of transfers in the NICS’s handgun, long gun, multiple and other categories — totaled 1.4 million, an 11 percent spike over last year and 16 percent above 2016, the busiest year ever for background checks.
Dealers processed more than 781,000 applications for handguns and just under 541,000 applications for long guns last month. The only March to post better numbers came in 2013 during a wave of threatened gun law reform on Capitol Hill in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
NICS checks serve as a proxy measure for gun sales, albeit an imperfect one. 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. Guns.com removes these categories from the total figure to more accurately assess actual transfers, though it’s still an estimate.
The sharp uptick follows six weeks of intense public debate about the role of stricter gun regulations in preventing mass shootings after a 19-year-old armed with an AR-15 murdered 17 people at his former high school in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day.
Investigators later revealed the gunman — and his, at times debilitating, mental health issues — were well known to state and local authorities. A friend even tipped off the FBI six weeks before the shooting, concerned about the gunman’s violent tendencies and stockpile of firearms.
In response, the Florida Legislature adopted a package of reforms mandating a three-day waiting period on gun transactions and implementing age restrictions on rifle sales. Calls for a ban on “military-style weapons” went ignored at the state and federal level.
Congress did, however, enact stiffer penalties for state and federal agencies who fail to update criminal records in the databases feeding NICS as part of a budget deal struck last month to keep the government operating until September. The Department of Justice — at the insistence of President Donald Trump himself — proposed a new rule banning bump stocks, six months after the devices were found attached to a dozen rifles in the Vegas shooter’s hotel suite.
The corresponding spike in background checks follows a predictable trend often witnessed after other high-profile mass shootings. In December 2012 — the same month as Sandy Hook — gun sales spiked 61 percent. The second half of the month accounted for eight of the biggest days for background checks that year. Four of them made the FBI’s top 10 busiest days ever list and the week after the shooting still ranks as the single busiest week in NICS history.
The week of Feb. 26 through March 4 ranks the eighth busiest week in history with 695,503 applications processed. It’s the same week a wave of corporations — including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Kroger and L.L. Bean — announced changes to their firearm policies in the wake of the Parkland shooting.