Some Statistics about NICS (Background Checks for Firearms Ownership)

I was poking around the FBI’s website the other day and ran into a 2010 report about NICS (the National Instant Criminal Background Check System) checks, which is the background check that happens when you buy a gun from a gun shop and causes those 10 frustrating minutes after you’ve plunked down your dollars but before you can have the gun. Turns out they’ve done that exact same thing over 124 million times (124,427,448 as of December 31, 2010 to be exact) and have some interesting statistics to share.

One of the more interesting statistics the FBI shares right off the bat are the top five days and weeks in terms of volume of checks. Here’s the top five days (2011 excluded):

Friday, November 28, 2008 97,848
Saturday, October 02, 2010 89,593
Friday, November 26, 2010 87,061
Sunday, October 03, 2010 85,478
Friday, November 27, 2009 83,660
Friday, October 01, 2010 80,311
Thursday, December 23, 2010 79,440
Friday, December 22, 2006 75,132
Saturday, December 23, 2000 74,891
Tuesday, December 23, 2008 73,427

A couple things immediately stand out from this table. First is the day that keeps popping up: Black Friday. The number 1 day for NICS checks (and #3, and #5…) is the day after Thanksgiving, the national holiday celebrating American capitalism. Conspicuously absent from the “top” days and even weeks tables are the days following Election Day 2008, when Barack Obama was elected. Another anomaly of note is that three consecutive days, October 1st through 3rd,  2010, all appear in the top 10 days but I can’t figure out why. Tim, on the other hand, has a pretty good theory:

As for October 2008 – Reading through this might give you some idea of why – the housing markets, uncertainty and the odds for Obama winning increasing after McCain suspended his campaign…

Of the 124+ million NICS checks that dealers have done over the years just under 821,000 have been denied. That means every time someone buys a gun there’s a 0.6% chance they’ll be denied. Don’t fall for the ludic fallacy on that one, I just thought it was a nifty statistic. Thankfully, the FBI has broken out their denials into another easy to understand table.

Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years 507,495 61.82%
Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Conviction 90,958 11.08%
Unlawful User or Addicted to a Controlled Substance 64,626 7.87%
Fugitive From Justice 62,955 7.67%
Protection/Restraining Order for Domestic Violence 35,972 4.38%
State Prohibitor 27,048 3.30%
Illegal/Unlawful Alien 10,252 1.25%
Under Indictment/Information 9,791 1.19%
Adjudicated Mental Health 6,103 0.74%
Federally Denied Persons File 5,097 0.62%
Dishonorable Discharge 547 0.07%
Renounced U.S. Citizenship 4 0.01%

From the statistics it seems like the majority of the denials come from convicted criminals and perpetrators of domestic violence. Among the people who probably shouldn’t own firearms those categories would rank the highest in my book, so that’s good.

In order to make the NICS system truly instant the FBI uses a computerized database of names and identifying features of “bad guys.” When your dealer calls the NICS operators, they check the information you gave the dealer against that database. If there’s a match they send it off to an investigator for further digital detective work, but if there’s no match then they give the dealer the green light. So what kinds of records are in this database?

Illegal/Unlawful Alien 4,413,223 68.50%
Adjudicated Mental Health 1,107,758 17.20%
Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years 435,022 6.75%
Fugitive From Justice 367,110 5.70%
Misdemeanor Crime of Domestic Violence Conviction 54,559 0.85%
Federally Denied Persons File 35,993 0.56%
Renounced U.S. Citizenship 15,346 0.24%
Dishonorable Discharge 9,881 0.15%
Unlawful User/Addicted to a Controlled Substance 2,092 0.03%
Protection/Restraining Order for Domestic Violence 1,357 0.02%
Under Indictment/Information 197 0.00%

Interesting. 61% of the NICS denials come from only 6.75% of the records, with 68.5% of the records pertaining to illegal immigrants (who account for a little over 1% of denials).

One last thing. Remember that article the other day about how the firearms industry is dying?

Yeah, not so much.

Interesting stuff this statistics…