Gun Purchases and Politics?


Dr. Chris Uggen from the University of Minnesota recently had an interesting post over at the Public Criminology site. Dr. Uggen examined historical data on background checks for firearm purchases using the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System (NICS). Here is what he found:

…gun sales continue to rise, with april (2009) marking the sixth consecutive month of big increases in use of the fbi’s national instant background check system. since some attribute rising gun sales to fears of gun control, i wanted to know how much sales have risen since president obama was elected in november.

firearms sales are seasonal, typically peaking in december and bottoming out around may. since i was interested in the post-election period, i plotted sales from november to april of each year since the nics system came online.

there were about 8.1 million background checks from november 2008 to april 2009, an increase of 29 percent over the previous period from november 2007 to april 2008. this was by far the largest increase of the past decade, though i can’t really tell whether it was due to president obama’s election, a deepening recession, or some other factor…
Dr. Uggen has some other commentary and a nice graph that illustrates his finding at his site. He was also surprised by the volume of recent gun purchases:
…in a nation of 218 million adults, i count 8,097,100 background checks in the past six months alone.

how can that figure be correct?

i know that not every check represents a single individual, but i’m still having trouble getting my head around the idea of 8 million in just 6 months. it would be as if every single adult resident of wyoming, vermont, north dakota, south dakota, alaska, delaware, montana, rhode island, hawaii, new hampshire, and maine all walked into bill’s gun shop to plunk down five hundred bucks for a glock 19. …
Before linking the potential steep increase in gun sales during the current president’s term to anything, well political, I would want to eliminate any systemic issues that could have contributed. Were their changes in the system over the past decade that could have caused the increase? Are fewer states conducting their own checks? Has the FBI noticed the increases, and if so what do they attribute the changes to?

Interested in an answer, I contacted the FBI via email, using (my professional name and contact), but only received an anonymous reply. The unnamed federal employee simply stated that their office does not maintain the figures that I requested and that any questions about the number of gun dealers should be directed to the ATF.

Was the FBI aware of increases in purchasing during different presidential administrations? Can the increases be easily explained by changes in counting methods or participation numbers? Are guns being purchased and stockpiled somewhere in the US due to the current political environment?

It certainly sounds like an interesting prime time movie plot, and this is where I should insert something witty that either supports or disputes the professor’s post. Unfortunately and with no help from the Feds, I do not know why gun sales have increased.

I did read that the NICS program recently moved from under the direction of the ATF (in Georgia) to the FBI’s West Virginia office. I believe that there is a technical explanation that makes sense for the increase, but I would think the FBI would have that immediately available for inquiry goobs such as myself.

Perhaps, someone in the know will provide evidence and make a case in the future.

5 comments:

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Okay, I'm not getting warm fuzzies here....

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