Black Friday shoppers — put off by crowds, hitting the Internet, perhaps fearing terrorism — came out in fewer numbers this past weekend. Yet the lack of enthusiasm for standing in line in dark parking lots did not prevent a historic spike in firearm background checks on Friday, when 185,345 were processed — a record.
"This was an approximate 5 percent increase over the 175,754 received on Black Friday 2014," Stephen Fischer, the FBI's chief of multimedia productions, wrote to USA Today. "The previous high for receipts were the 177,170 received on 12/21/2012" — a week after Adam Lanza killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Though the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed more than 130 people were certainly on the minds of many traveling to visit their families over Thanksgiving, it's not clear what caused the increase in firearm background checks. Notable spikes in such checks, processed through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), are often seen on Black Friday, near Christmas and after mass shootings. Meanwhile, FBI data going back to 1998 show that the number of background checks has risen steadily since 2006.
Indeed, before jihadists stormed a rock show in the City of Light, one spokesman for a gun industry trade group noted that October 2015 saw more firearm background checks than any previous October.
"The numbers are just out, so we have not yet had the opportunity to gather viewpoints from across our industry to provide color commentary for what continues to be year-over-year healthy firearms sales," Michael Bazinet, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told Guns.com. "We think more individuals making the decision to exercise their right to keep and bear arms along with the rising interest in target shooting provide the underlying long-term narrative."
Every year, after all, there are more Americans — and more and more of them, it seems, are eager to enjoy the Second Amendment. Reports have noted that new entrants to the gun market include women, millennials and those who sport assault rifles to make a political point — as some did at an anti-Muslim protest last month at a mosque in Irving, Texas.
"Assault weapons acquisition has become a form of political expression," columnist and frequent gun-control commentator Robert J. Spitzer wrote in June. "Many have noted increases in firearms sales keyed both to the election cycle, notably Barack Obama's elections in 2008 and 2012, and to mass shootings. The very purchase of guns, and especially assault weapons, is a statement that they should remain legal and unregulated, that guns themselves are not the problem. It's also a way to express opposition to Obama. Within the gun industry, this pattern is called 'political sales.' "
NICS firearm background checks are performed prior to guns being purchased at retail outlets, and typically take a few minutes. Since the checks were implemented in 1998, more than 220 million have been run; just 1.2 million background checks have been denied approval by the NICS system. Roughly half of these denials were because of a would-be purchaser's criminal record.
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Among those excluded from buying, as the FBI notes, is anyone who:
• Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
• Is a fugitive from justice
• Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance
• Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution
• Is an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States or who has been admitted to the United States under a non-immigrant visa
• Has been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions
• Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship
• Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner
• Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
• Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.
It is important to note: A firearm background check does not equal a firearm sale.