Courtesy Dean Weingarten

2015 was a record year for the National Instant Checks System (NICS) and firearm sales. The previous record year was in 2013, another year in which President Obama put considerable effort into passing strict gun control laws . . . and failed. In 2013, there were 21,093,271 background checks completed via NICS, according to the FBI. That amounted to 16,031,210 additional private firearms sold, according to the ATF. The numbers for 2015 NICS checks are now in and the 2013 totals were exceeded . . .

by a full 10 percent. There were 23,141,970 NICS background checks completed in 2015, with eight of the 12 months marking all-time records. As usual, December racked up the greatest number of NICS checks with 3,314,594.

NICS background checks don’t represent a one-to-one correspondence to increases in the private stock of firearms. Some NICS checks are performed for used guns. Some are completed for people obtaining a concealed carry permit, who aren’t necessarily purchasing a gun. Once people obtain a carry permit, most don’t need to go through the NICS system again if they purchase a gun. Also, several guns can be purchased by an individual on one NICS check.

Still, there is a high correlation between NICS checks and gun sales. In 2013, the last record year, one NICS check corresponded to .76 new private firearms. 2014 and 2015 are both very similar to 2013 in the number of NICS checks. The .76 ratio was used to extrapolate the increase in private firearms during those years.

There were about 308 million privately owned firearms in the United States at the start of the Obama presidency. If we omit the millions of firearms that were added during and immediately after the election in 2008, the total number of guns in the US has increased by 88.5 million during the Obama presidency, at the end of 2015. And there’s still an entire year to go in his final term.

President Obama’s town hall on CNN about guns in America has us off to a good start. Based on recent trends, another 16 to 17 million firearms will be added in 2016, increasing the total to about 412 million guns. That’s an increase of 104 million, or about 25 percent during the Obama years, and only slightly more all the privately owned guns in 1968, when the current push for gun control started.

President Obama can be proud; that is an enormous legacy. And given that the useful life of a modern firearm is measured in centuries, increased firearms ownership may be the most lasting legacy of the Obama presidency.

Source: fbi.gov(pdf)

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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43 Responses to 2015 Record Year for Firearms Sales and NICS Background Checks

  1. Twenty-three million background checks! And several states moving towards increased freedom by changing or removing restrictive laws regarding Firearms. The blood in the streets has got to be at depths and amounts not seen since the biblical plagues all those years ago!

    Seriously… its now been eleven days since Texas began to Open Carry, where are all the shoot-outs and all that other stuff the hoplophobes are always on about?

    • Seriously.

      I’d like to see an article/editorial on that. Kinda like a “First 15 days of OC in Texas” kind of thing.

      Knowing it’s hard to prove a negative and all, but it would be wonderful to have in said editorial links to ALL (or at least many) of the claims the anti’s made.

      And, not just the anti-gunners, but also the anti-OC-ers. How many gun grabs have there been? How many OC-ers have been ‘targeted first’ in armed robberies?

      Inquiring minds what to know..data, not fearmongering, emotional hysteria.

        • Being from Florida, I’m sure you can understand that cold in Texas doesn’t quite equal snow or ice. A strong wind and below 50 is usually enough for us to say it’s “cold.”

          Snow or ice, and we’ll be shutting this b*tch down.

    • Though, I wasn’t openly carrying at the time, I did, however, lift up my sweatshirt this weekend to adjust my undershirt, blatantly exposing my weapon…

      I felt an immediate boiling over and slightly painful churning coming from the pit of my stomach, I felt small beads of sweat developing on my brow, and my hands began to shake, which I could only assume was an instant desire to get into a gunfight and spill blood in the streets.

      But then, I realized that I had Mexican for lunch and just had to poo.

  2. I always question the number of deactivated/destroyed firearms. I imagine that a fair number of firearms are deactivated/destroyed every year … probably well more than the estimates that I have seen.

    Personally, I have intentionally deactivated one firearm in my lifetime — an el cheapo (off-brand) pump-action shotgun that broke and wasn’t worth repairing. I really don’t hear much about others deactivating or destroying firearms … yet I know that it happens. Of course we have all seen people bringing in junk firearms to police turn-in events as well.

    If I had to guess, I can easily see people taking one million firearms out of circulation every year — whether due to neglect/disrepair/failure, turn-ins, and/or confiscation (newly minted “prohibited persons”). Oh, and then there are all those boating accidents … the bottom of rivers, lakes, and the continental shelf of the oceans must be covered in rusting firearms.

    • I think you’re much mistaken. How many guns are actually worn out and unusable? Very few. The people that buy (or “obtain”) a POS aren’t going it rid of it because they upgraded to a Python.

      I’ve never destroy/discarded/deactivated a gun in my life. Is that even a thing?

      • I agree. Unless a gun is just unrepairable, or it’s economically unfeasible (parts cost more than the gun is worth), I don’t think many people are destroying guns. Guns (other than the real bottom-of-the-barrel pot-metal junkers) are remarkably durable items. Half of my collection is guns that are 50+ years old, and they all operate more or less like they were built last year (better, actually, because not many guns built last year were built with the craftsmanship and attention to detail of old guns). No doubt there are always some guns being taken out of circulation, but a million a year seems like a very high estimate.

      • Sell the unbroken parts on feebay. I’ve gotten several “broken firearms” replaced the busted part and shot away. I even sold some but not for a profit!

      • Regarding your argument from personal incredulity fallacy: Just because you haven’t done it and can’t think of why anyone might do it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

        I have deactivated and destroyed numerous guns, some I just destroyed and tossed in the trash with the potato peels and orange rinds and coffee grounds. I’ve also gone the other way and reactivated formerly deactivated guns. It’s about value for effort. Not all things are salvageable and not all salvageable things are worth recovering and re-injecting into the pipeline.

  3. This helps explain why the AR-15 I want isn’t in stock at my LGS, but I would rather see information on the number of lawful gun owners in the U.S.

    How about some stats on the Illinois FOID card and similar compulsory gun owner ID programs in other states?

    • TTAG had a story awhile back where the FOID numbers got leaked. I believe the number was 1.68 million FOID holders in 2013, which works out to only about 14% of Illinois’s population. Of course, almost a quarter of Illinois’s population is under 18 and we have a decent number of prohibited persons.

      • Illinois’ Concealed Carry Law went into effect 1/1/2014.
        So I want to see what has happened to the FOID numbers since then.

        The data isn’t a state secret. The State Police routinely release it to newspapers via FOIA.

  4. I was chatting with my local gun shop proprietors and asked them what percentage of firearm sales are to new customers; 1st time buyers. Though their answers varied, the best estimate was between 50 & 75 percent. If our shop is representative of the nation then all of the hype from the anit’s about gun ownership decreasing is pure bull. Which, we probably knew already…

    • This is in keeping with my experience recently.

      I returned to my home state for the holidays and was swamped by relatives, people at church, etc wanting me to help them become first time gun owners. My other relatives that already own and carry weren’t feeling compelled to buy any more – they’re all set.

      Its a first-time buyer’s market right now.

  5. When gun control say has charts statistic prove they have over whelming support for there cause. They should really take look at this static show the over whelming support that people in want own firearms. So if statistics matter like those pushing gun control say do than should they realize most people are not buying there message that ever thing would be safer in world with out them.

  6. “one NICS check corresponded to .76 new private firearms”

    This doesn’t pass the logic test. In the last couple years how many guys do you know that have bought multiple stripped AR lowers? When buying new at a gun show only buy one item?

    I’d guess that actual # today is more like 2-3 items er unconstitutional “check”.

    • The flip-side is that some checks result in a no-sale; either a prohibited buyer was denied or buyer changed mind, perhaps after a delay in the check. It’s impossible to know the exact number. And that’s a good thing.

    • As Dean pointed out, there’s an NICS check for used gun sales, too. And those sales don’t add to the civilian inventory.

  7. Obama: I going to restrict gun rights.
    States: Screw that, we’re giving the people that live in us less restrictions.
    Obama: *cries*

    or, in Pokemon terms:
    Obama uses Stricter Gun Control, it’s not effective.
    Several states counter with Less Restrictions, it’s super effective.

    • Lol @ Pokémon reference.

      I just replayed Red on a GBC emulator on my phone. I’m young enough to have been bit by the Pokémon bug back in the late 90s and I’ve gotta say, I have no idea how I could have possibly enjoyed playing those at such a young age. The strategy involved, while not overwhelming, I think is still a little too much for my 8 year old brain to have managed. How did I ever beat it then??

  8. This year is going to make the last 3 look like a popcorn fart. You’re going to see gun sales hit unimaginable numbers. By Obama’s definition I think many of us will be gun dealers by December.

    • I’ve added to 2016 numbers picking up my new Ruger LCR .22lr last week.
      BTW, trigger action is heavy but off set by how smooth & chrisp the action. Very fun little revolver

  9. We’ve been joking about it for the last 7 years, but we should seriously consider giving Barry a lifetime acheivement award for firearm sales. Not only is it well deserved, it will also piss him off lol.

    • I think we need a special AR built. “The Commander in Chief 2008-2016” – Everytime you load a 30 round mag it plays “Hail to the Chief” Make it about $500 or less. Engrave on the reciever “Thanks from a grateful nation” I’m sure we could add a few more tweeks like a Red,white and blue camo.

    • Has Obama been signing the President’s Hundred tab for the CMP these past few years? If so, I bet you can see the tear marks on them.

  10. 400,000,000 guns? Sounds good-I would think long and hard about Aussie-style confiscation Bury. I hope to add to the number too…oh and Curtis-I’m sure the FOID #’s are sky-high. Massive crowds at my local grossly over-priced gun shop/range in Cook Co. AND lots of black folks as 1st time shooters/owners(legally anyway)…

  11. I’m sure it’s just the same 1000 or so toothless, NRA loving racist buying 500 guns a month, over and over again, and who are, clearly, keeping this multi-billion dollar industry afloat…

    They are all probably named Bundy and Zimmerman, too

    • Yep, the same 1000 NRA lovin’ rednecks that are too stupid to think for ourselves that somehow have the employment to enjoy the disposable income to buy a couple hundred thousand firearms per month…

      The disconnect in the anti-arguments is truly mind boggling.

      • Hundreds of millions of guns, but seemly the liberal media claims that the “vast majority” of the public is with them.

  12. So, what’s the statistic for people arrested & charged by the ATF after failing a background check? Similar curve? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Checking people you eventually pass through counts as wasted effort. Unless keeping guns out of BG’s hands isn’t the point. (Wait a tick…)

    Even so, you’d kinda expect them to advertise “BG’s prevented” numbers pretty hard: “Hey we kept a new gun out of a bad guy’s hands 80-kabillion times last year.” (Maybe they’re not so proud. No really big fires involved.)

    Better: “We arrested & charged 80-kabillion bad guys who were stopped from getting guns by our awesome background check system.” (Maybe not so interesting. They don’t burn those guys at the stake, so, again, no fire.)

    Best: “Incidental to failing background checks, we nabbed 40-kabillion assorted bad guys, too clue-impared to stay away from the background check system, but none the less, dangerous: failure to appear, outstanding charges, escaped, on parole, etc.” (Again, boring. No fires.)

    Really, it seems like bad marketing to me.

    “Last year, we inflicted delayed, hassle, and fees on 80-kabillion citizens who eventually passed background checks to get a gun. Meanwhile, we have no idea how many BG’s we stopped from getting guns with this check, prosecuted noone for making the illegal attempt, and ignored any other crimes or similar uncovered in the process. Your tax dollars as work!”

    “Meanwhile, we do make the NICS / gun owner data available to various ‘law enforcement’ (Even though we’re not supposed to have it, let alone share it. “Fusion centers” and “the war on terror” are beautiful things.) So, if you are “interviewed” or pulled over, you can pretty much assume the cop knows whether you legally own a gun. If you own one illegally, of course, he still has no idea.”

    This is your government. Thank you for your support.”

    • John Lott has stated in an interview that of 76,000 initial NICS denials in 2010, only 44 were prosecuted and only 13 resulted in convictions.

      He also said that of the millions of denials, at least 95% (and maybe as high as 99%) were false positives.

      The NICS system is a sham.

  13. Looking at the trends, It seems difficult to definitively say Obama’s presidency/policies are the reason(s) for the increase in NICS background checks. If we use 2004-2007, or 2004-2008 (since Obama was not elected till November 4th, 2008), and linearly extrapolate to the year 2015, we get 20,063.7 (R^2=0.9998) and 21,265.8 (R^2=0.9928) for the year 2015 (Excel used for fitting data). That’s a liner extrapolation based on what appear to be the beginning of a new trend starting in 2004. 2002-2004 seem to fairly stable, and thus the picking of 2004 as the starting year.

    I haven’t run the numbers on the “Increase in Private Firearms Stock”; visually, that looks like it has indeed increased during the Obama tenure, and more so than a linear extrapolation based on 2004-2008 would have predicted.

    Are we wrong in saying the increase in NICS checks is due to Obama? But right in saying the increase in private firearms stock is due to Obama?

    Notes: I am not a statistician (rather an engineer); a linear fit might make a decent first approximation, but something else is probably more appropriate; I didn’t run the numbers on Private Firearms stock.

  14. 2008 was clearly influenced by the Obama Phenomena. Still, there does appear to be a new trend starting in 2005. That was the first full year after the Clinton Assault Weapon ban ended.

    It is clear that Obama has been a significant factor. I would not say 100 percent, but I suspect that his gun control push increased the numbers by a significant percentage, maybe as much as 50%.

    An AR-15 type commemorative in his honor is a poke in the eye to the disarmists, so I am all for it.

  15. I might be missing something here, but doesn’t the ATF know the EXACT number of guns that were either manufactured in or imported to the US? Sure, plenty are sitting on store shelves and not “owned” but manufacturers aren’t going to turn out a lot of product that doesn’t sell, so that number should be a lot more accurate than guessing from NICS checks.

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