- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2017

The number of federal gun background checks dropped in June after posting a modest uptick a month earlier, signaling the firearms market is still adjusting to the post-Obama world, which had brought record sales.

Now with President Trump in the White House, gun manufacturers are trying to gauge the public’s appetite for new firearms, which appears to have faded somewhat without the fear of a looming crackdown on owners.

There were 1.9 million checks on purchases run through the national instant check system in June, which was down about 11 percent compared to the 2.1 million checks in June 2016.

Overall, the first six months of 2017 were down 1.2 million, or 9 percent, compared to the first half of 2016.

The gun industry has acknowledged the drop-off, but said it’s to be expected after a record-setting 27.5 million checks last year.

“We are coming off the peaks of 2016 but the valley floor is much higher,” Michael Bazinet, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said in an email. “This is because we now appear to have organic growth of 4-6% a year in the now stabilized market.”

In 2016, the gun issue was front and center in the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump ran aggressively on a pro-gun platform, securing the National Rifle Association’s earliest-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate and repeatedly criticizing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as being anti-gun.

But his pro-gun stance appears to have eased the fears that had been pushing some Americans to buy their first guns, and previous owners to stock up on more.

Mr. Obama closed out the tail end of his tenure with 19 straight year-to-year monthly increases in background checks. But December, the month after Mr. Trump’s election, began five straight months of declines.

Checks did rise by 4 percent in May, but fell again last month.

Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said the demand for guns is still “very high,” with an increase in concealed carry permit holders helping boost specialized areas of the market.

“The number of people carrying concealed in the United States has reached an all-time high,” he said. “And this is driving gun sales, which are still at near-record levels. Not surprisingly, much of those sales are for pistols that are especially suited for concealed carry.”

The federal instant check numbers are not a one-to-one correlation of gun sales, but are generally used as one approximation of the market.

The NSSF, the leading trade group for the gun industry, releases its own figures that subtract out certain federal checks not tied to gun sales, like checks on already-issued permits, to try to provide a clearer picture of the market.

But the NSSF’s adjusted June figure of about 1 million checks was also down about 11 percent from the 1.14 million in June 2016 — comparable to the percentage decline in the federal numbers — though last month’s total was also 15 percent higher than the group’s 886,825 calculated checks for June 2015.

Gun control advocates have said a broader decline in sales could embolden the other side to push for looser gun laws now that Mr. Obama, who oversaw record numbers of checks as he tried to push gun controls, is out of office.

“Without a bogeyman in the White House coming to take everyone’s guns away, it looks like it may be a lot harder to push the product,” Erika Soto Lamb, a spokeswoman for the gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, said earlier in the year amid declining checks.

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