The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS for short, reveals all sorts of data. Most folks just look at the grand total number each month or year and compare that to the previous year’s data for an idea of sales trends. But the data has a much bigger story to tell.
Most people assume that each NICS check represents a firearm transfer. In the past, the overwhelming majority did indeed represent transfers. However, today, most NICS checks are done for license checks and re-checks.
For instance, did you know that Illinois has the most NICS checks of any state so far in 2019? More than even Texas. Far more.
Does that mean Land o’ Lincoln gun owners like me have bought more guns than our brothers and sisters in the Lone Star State? Oh, heck no. Illinois has so many NICS checks because the Illinois State Police just love to check and re-check Firearm Owner Identification cardholders along with concealed carry license holders. Over and over again.
Changing buying habits
Looking at elsewhere in the NICS data, we find “Monthly by state and purpose” file information. That’s where you can see the purpose of the NICS checks that are run. I’ve cropped the image to remove trivial categories like pawns, rentals, private sales and returns.
As you can see, Texas has run just shy of 700,000 firearms purchase checks, while Land of Lincoln residents have bought a mere 276,000 guns so far in 2019. And, as you can see, Illinois does ten times as many NICS rechecks on FOID and CCW holders as it does for new gun purchases.
Looking back in time, it’s interesting to look at the sea change in the buying patterns of gun owners. Polls show that two-thirds of self-admitted gun owners own one firearm for personal defense.
Almost twenty years ago, long guns outsold handguns by a 2:1 margin. Here is data from 1999…
Today, handgun sales rule the roost.
The sea change happened during Barack Obama’s presidency, the greatest gun salesman in the history of the world ever. More and more Americans decided they wanted some ballistic capability for personal protection purposes, so they bought handguns. And a lot of them.
You too can access all these many reports at the FBI’s NICS page. Head over there and poke around. They have information there on interesting things like the top ten days and weeks for NICS checks, as well as data denials and more.