Background check data confirms typical US response to mass shooting: Buy more guns

© George Frey
The FBI conducted more than 2.1 million background checks for firearm purchases in June, about a 40 percent increase on the same month last year. If the current pace keeps up, 2016 is set to be a banner year for background checks.

It’s a trend repeated over and over after each major mass shooting in the US that brings about cries for more gun control: Americans go out and buy more weapons. This June, in the wake of the Orlando massacre, was no exception.

In the early morning hours of June 12, Omar Mateen opened fire at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At the end of a three-hour standoff with police, there were 49 dead ‒ not including the shooter ‒ and 53 injured. The massacre, which has been deemed both a hate crime and a terror attack, led to the biggest push for gun control measures in Congress since the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.

It also led to Americans purchasing firearms in record numbers, according to the latest FBI data on background checks.

© FBI

In June, the FBI conducted more than 2.1 million checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), an increase of about 40 percent over the same month in 2015. It’s also the most background checks conducted in the month of June ‒ traditionally when the fewest number of checks are conducted ‒ since the NICS was launched in 1998. It was also the 14th month in a row to see increase in background checks.

“As I have been predicting for months we are going to keep on breaking records through the November election,” said Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, according to the Washington Free Beacon. “[President Barack] Obama, [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary] Clinton, and [former New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg’s anti-rights rhetoric is driving more and more people to gun stores.”

So far this year, the FBI has conducted 13.8 million background checks, compared to just under 10.5 million in 2015. Last year was a record year, with 23.1 million background checks conducted ‒ and 2016 is on pace to break that record.

Every month so far in 2016 has outpaced the same month in 2015 by an average of more than half a million (560,541) background checks.

“Yes, we have seen a dramatic spike in sales volume (around five times normal levels) especially in the .223/5.56 caliber and to a lesser extent 9mm, .45 ACP, and .308 but the increase is definitely across the board,” Scott Blick, managing partner at Ammunition Depot, told the Washington Free Beacon in June.

The most background checks ever conducted in a month was in December, when more than 3.3 million were done after the San Bernardino, California terror attack. It’s reasonable to assume that some of the bump in purchases in the first quarter of 2016 can be attributed to that mass shooting, just as the first quarter of 2013 ‒ after Sandy Hook ‒ saw a significantly higher number of checks compared to the same quarter in 2012. 2013 was also the same year that background checks reached the 20 million milestone, at 21.1 million. 2006 was first year to cross the 10 million barrier.

The FBI is quick to note, however, that there is not an exact correlation between background checks and gun sales.

“Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale,” the FBI said in the report. The NICS doesn’t report whether or not a potential customer fails a background check, nor does it include private gun sales that do not involve a federally licensed firearms dealer. On top of that, only one check is run regardless of the number of weapons purchased during that sale.

Indeed, gun ownership in the US has hit new lows, according to a recent survey that found only 36 percent of Americans owned or lived with someone who owned a firearm. At the same time, however, there are more guns than people in the country, in part because  gun owners have an increasing number of firearms. A 2013 Washington Post survey  found that the average gun-owning household had eight firearms in it. In 1994, that number was four.

The release of the FBI report, which was done “quietly just before market close on Friday July 1st," did not go completely unnoticed, according to Seeking Alpha, an investment research website. "The few market participants that noticed the FBI release late Friday bought up shares of both SWHC and RGR into the close," referring to gun manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger.

Gun companies usually see an increase in their stock prices after mass shootings, and Orlando was no exception.