The number of background checks for gun transactions run through the FBI’s instant-check system jumped 54 percent in the first two months of 2013 and increased dramatically in all 50 states compared to the same period last year, a spike analysts attribute to the Obama administration’s post-Newtown push for new gun controls.
Though every background check does not represent a sale, the figure typically is used as a barometer to gauge demand, and just three states — Nebraska, Wyoming and Kentucky — had rate increases of less than 42 percent.
The demand has spread not only for firearms, but for ammunition — a result of simple supply and demand, said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the firearms and ammunition industry.
“Gun owners are concerned that there’s an attack on their Second Amendment liberties, which are now unquestionably a fundamental individual constitutional right,” Mr. Keane said.
He said National Instant Criminal Background Check System checks have been increasing steadily since the inception of the system in 1998 as the number of hunters and sport shooters have gone up, for example. But there was a tremendous spike right around the 2008 election, he added, with the last few months “really unprecedented again.”
The National Shooting Sports Foundation uses its own formula that subtracts out certain permit and application checks to more accurately reflect market demand; the February 2013 NSSF-adjusted number of 1,634,309 is an increase of 29.1 percent over Febuary 2012 — the 33rd straight month that the figures have increased compared to the same period the previous year.
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The January figure of 1,790,154 was up 94.4 percent from January 2012 and was the second-highest ever recorded by the group, behind only December 2012’s 2,237,731.
The number of checks more than doubled in two states in January and February, though those numbers both represent a relatively small sample size. Checks in Delaware increaseed 104 percent, from 4,557 to 9,290, and the number in Alaska jumped 103 percent, from 9,536 to 19,372.
There were no readily distinctive regional or political characteristics common to the 10 states that saw the greatest rates of increase. In addition to Delaware and Alaska, the next eight were Utah, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Washington, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Virginia and New Jersey.
Kentucky had the most total checks with 485,770, but its 17.1 percent increase from the same period last year was the lowest rate of any state. Mr. Keane said the NSSF adjusts its numbers precisely because of states like Kentucky and Utah, which regularly run checks on concealed weapon permits that would not signify a sale.
The NICS system, in place since 1998, has become a flashpoint in the current gun control debate.
The National Rifle Association has said it opposes the idea of universal background checks on all gun sales; because many states do not submit enough records into the system, universal checks would only serve as unecessary burdens on law-abiding gun owners, the group says.
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Gun control advocates such as New York City Michael R. Bloomberg — who is launching a $12 million ad campaign in 13 states to push for gun legislation — argue they’re among the simplest, least intrusive ways to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that it is providing $20 million to help states more easily comply and submit records to NICS. States provide data such as criminal history records and records on people banned from having guns because of mental illness or domestic violence incidents.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, announced last week that a ban on so-called assault weapons will not be part of the base gun bill the body will take up when it returns from a two-week recess, but that in order to be effective, “any bill that passes the Senate must include background checks.”
The White House reiterated Monday that Mr. Obama will continue to push for a ban on such weapons, as well as universal background checks.
“The president feels very strongly in the constitutional right to bear arms,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And what the president has advocated is a set of universal background checks that would ensure that people who are not supposed to have guns — so these are people with mental disabilities; these are criminals — should not have access to guns. What we want to make sure is that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, but without interfering with the ability of law-abiding citizens to get their guns that they would like to buy.”