Background checks on gun purchases hit a record of 28.3 million in 2019, amid calls for tighter gun restrictions by the Democratic presidential candidates.
“Democrats have been the best gun salesmen of the year,” said Alan Gottlieb, founder of Second Amendment Foundation, a pro-gun group.
The FBI conducted more than 28.3 million background checks last year through its National Instant Criminal Background Checks Systems, or NICS. That represents a 3% increase from the record 27.5 million set in presidential election year 2016.
December was the bureau’s second-highest month ever for gun background checks, with more than 2.9 million. The December numbers reflect a ramp-up in gun sales toward the end of the year. On Black Friday alone — Nov. 29 — the FBI ran 202,465 background checks.
NICS checks are largely viewed as an indicator of gun sales.
With the 2020 elections 11 months away and nearly every Democratic presidential candidate proposing stricter access to firearms, gun sales appear to be increasing.
“We’ve been very, very busy this year and in particular, December,” said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in North Carolina.
“The biggest reason is political with the elections in November and rhetoric in the news media. Before we had candidates talking about registering guns, now we’ve got candidates talking about confiscating a gun.”
Mr. Hyatt ticked off several other reasons for his store’s sales increase, including an improved economy and increased inventory offered by suppliers.
Shortly after President Trump took office, the gun industry suffered through what was called the “Trump slump.” Firearms enthusiasts no longer feared a crackdown, which had led to a massive sales surge during the Obama administration.
The field of Democrats running for the White House have offered a litany of gun control proposals. Perhaps the most startling to gun owners was former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s call for a mandatory buyback program of AR- and AK-style rifles.
“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” Mr. O’Rourke said in September, just before dropping out of the race.
Now that the calendar has flipped to an election year, analysts expect sales to top 2019. Small Arms Analytics, which provides data to the gun industry, estimates 14.4 million firearms will be sold in 2020, falling just shy of the 2016 record of 16.6 million.
“For gun owners, the election cycle has already started,” Mr. Gottlieb said. “Their rights have already been under attack, and you are seeing record turnouts at meetings around the country.”
David Chipman, a senior policy adviser at Giffords, an organization advocating for stronger gun laws, said the FBI data is misleading.
The NICS numbers include permit checks and rechecks for concealed carry permits, which is inflating the numbers, he said. Mr. Chipman also pointed to slight increases in handgun purchases and a decrease in sales for long guns, a specific firearm with a longer barrel.
“If you report the FBI is busier this year, that is absolutely right. But if you suggest this is indicative of the gun market, I’d say beware,” he said. “Based on my view of the data, gun sales have flatlined.”
The NICS system was created after the passage of the Brady bill, which mandated background checks for firearms purchases. In 1999, the first full year of the system, just over 9 million background checks were conducted.