Does FBI-NICS Tell Us How Many Guns Are Sold By Gun Dealers? I’m Not Sure.

What’s that about you learn something new every day? Well I just learned something from the NRA about the NICS-FBI background check system and if I didn’t know about this before today, I guarantee you that maybe nobody else in the GVP community knows it either.  And what I learned today is particularly important because I learned it just after reading the new Pew gun report which claims that both gun owners and non-gun owners support FBI-NICS background checks for ‘secondary,’ i.e., personal transfers of guns.

nics             It’s all well and good that 87% of non-gun owners and 77% of gun owners favor more comprehensive background checks. But if you live in one of 26 states on an official list published by the ATF and possess either a concealed-carry license or, in some cases, a gun license, you don’t have to undergo a FBI-NICS background check when you buy any gun at all. Think I’m making it up?  Click here.

I never knew this because my gun shop happens to be located in one of the 24 states which doesn’t exempt any over-the-counter purchase from going through NICS. And in fact my state not only requires dealers to get a NICS approval before the gun is transferred, but also requires the dealer to verify through a website link that the customer’s state-issued gun license is also valid at the time the transfer is made. Do many other states which exempt license-holders from NICS have a system which requires real-time verification of the state license when a gun is sold?  I doubt it.  That’s about the last expense that a legislature in Georgia or West Virginia is going to add to the state budget.

Right now there are somewhere between 12 and 14 million active concealed-carry permits in the United States. Florida leads the list with over a million but the Gunshine State does not exempt any gun purchase from NICS.  On the other hand, states like Kentucky and Louisiana do exempt CCW-holders from NICS, and together these two states alone have issued over 300,000 concealed-carry permits.  Kentucky’s an interesting state because they use the NICS system every month to check whether any resident who has a gun license shows up as a ‘bad boy’ in any state. Last month the NICS system ran almost 375,000 such checks for Kentucky, but state residents also purchased almost 8,700 handguns. And since CCW-holders are exempted from NICS checks in Kentucky, even if someone’s name showed up on the NICS state license check, how would a gun shop owner know that the guy standing in front of him couldn’t legally buy a gun? Last month more than 10,000 handguns were sold in Louisiana and there’s no indication that NICS checked the validity of the 136,000 active Louisiana CCW permits at all.

I just did a quick eyeball on the number of concealed-carry permits issued by states which exempt the holders of those permits from undergoing NICS background checks, and the total is somewhere between 5.6 and 5.7 million, give or take a few.  How many handguns were purchased last month in these same states with background checks? Somewhere around 185,000, give or take a few thousand here or there (sorry, but I’m not going to waste time adding up every single one.)

The folks who go to the trouble of getting a concealed-carry license in many cases also tend to be the folks who buy lots of guns. Kind of goes with the territory, if you know what I mean. Is there a chance that the numbers for NICS checks in these exempt states may undercount the actual number of guns sold in those states by as much as half? Yup, there is.

I’m not saying that CCW-license holders are a threat to safety, I’ll let the Violence Policy Center make that argument with their ‘concealed killers’ report. What I am saying is that there may be a lot more guns being added to the civilian arsenal each month, and the one thing we know for sure about gun violence is that more guns equals more gun violence, period, the end.



9 thoughts on “Does FBI-NICS Tell Us How Many Guns Are Sold By Gun Dealers? I’m Not Sure.

  1. The last time I looked at that “concealed carry killers” site it was mostly anti-CHL advocacy and not much scientific data, i.e., examples of CHL holders who went bad. But no data on the frequency of this happening compared to the number of CHL holders as a population or comparing gun crime rates of CHL holders to cops, non-CHL holders, etc. or comparing the rates of CHL holders going rogue to CHL laws in a state or to whether it is shall issue, may issue, or so-called Constitutional Carry. But that was a while ago when I looked and have not gone back since. Are there rogue CHL holders? Well, duh. Are there rogue cops and rogue scientists?

    The notion that the NICS list might be undercounting gun sales and transfers is an interesting one. Might be worth a study.

    New Mexico doesn’t exempt CHL holders from having to get a NICS check on an FFL moderated sale, even though I have to renew my permit every four years and get a two year refresher class, which would seem to be an ideal time for New Mexico to see if I have acquired a criminal record. For that matter, in this age of computers, I would hope that our police or courts would cross-check anyone arrested for a serious crime (felony, misdemeanor domestic violence, etc) against the CHL list.

    • I don’t understand why anybody thinks they need an exemption from a background check, even when they have a CHL? It takes so little time, is very inexpensive, and I would think everybody agrees that we don’t want anyone who’s prohibited from being able to find an easy way through ever? Fact is, CHL holders do become prohibited, and too many states do not identify and revoke quickly or at all.

      I sure wish cops had access to a data system 24/7 that allowed them to even check if someone claiming to be a CHL permit holder was legitimate at all (ccw permit fraud happens), let alone whether their permit should be revoked (and their firearms secured) when they become “prohibited” especially those related to domestic violence or fugitive status. INLETS seems the natural vehicle as its own and run by states via compact and is not under federal authority or control.

      As for comprehensive data on frequency of CHL holders acting badly, unfortunately, as with many gun related issues, we don’t collect or provide that data to researchers as most state legislatures (pressured by the gun lobby) don’t allow it,and, in fact, speicifcally prohibit it. Where they have collected and studied sch data, like in Minnesota, its been very helpful to providing context without limiting anybody’s ability to secure a CHL.

      There’s a reason that the gun industry wants to hide the data from researchers on these matters and its not for officer, community or public safety.

      • The CHL is a comprehensive background check, at least in New Mexico. Photo, mug shots, fingerprints, and an investigation. It is duplication of effort to run a NICS check when someone is already cleared. The state can cross-check its records as often as it wishes. If you want to suggest a NICS is still neccesary, show me the data. So if, for example, NM were to pass a UBC law, it would be nice for those out in the weeds to be able to use a CHL to acquire a gun rather than drive to an FFL. It may take five minutes to have your friendly FFL call the NICS system but it may take an hour round trip and thirty or forty bucks to do a NICS transfer on a private sale.

        There is a little research on this topic of CHL holders going rogue. Phillips et al., Am J Public Health. 2013 January; 103(1): 86–91. John Lott has also worked this question but I don’t think his work has been peer reviewed. From the Phillips paper: ” Our results imply that expanding the settings in which concealed carry is permitted may increase the risk of specific types of crimes, some quite serious in those settings. These increased risks may be relatively small. Nonetheless, policymakers should consider these risks when contemplating reducing the scope of gun-free zones.”

  2. Why doesn’t the insurance industry, which we know never turns down an opportunity to make a buck, work for mandates on insurance when purchasing a gun? Every home sale and vehicle sale requires buyer show proof of insurance. Why not for guns? This would certainly slow the flow of guns.

    • Not quite. Every home mortgage and vehicle in operation on public streets requires insurance to indemnify the bank or anyone you hit with your car. I think there are some states contemplating gun owner insurance. This would likely be litigated but it would not surprise me if such a law gets on the books in more liberal states.

      Having gun owner insurance would probably work in mysterious ways. Obviously, a meth-head in Albuquerque would not buy insurance. But having to have insurance might do two things. One, deter some from buying a gun. Two, make gun owners more concerned with theft (which is a big problem in guns being diverted to crime) and perhaps lead more gun owners to secure their weapons in some good faith manner when not in use. I think my gun safe would qualify. Perhaps just as my Motorcycle Safety Foundation class gives me a break on my MC insurance, a gun safe would mitigate gun insurance.

      • Gun-Grabber Nation seems to keep pushing this idea, but how exactly would Firearm insurance even work?

        First off, you only need car insurance if your going to drive the car in public.

        Not to own one, or use it on private property…

        ….So, why would firearm insurance be needed unless you actually carried a gun in public?

        What exactly would Firearm insurance cover?

        If I used my gun in a crime, the insurance company would refuse to pay!

        If a Criminal steals my firearm, and uses it in a crime…the insurance company would refuse to pay!

        Would firearm insurance cover accidents?

        Would it pay to replace my stolen firearms?

        And how much should it cost?

        99.9% of legal gun owners will never use their firearms for harm (and insurance doesn’t cover intentional acts), so the risk of the insurance company having to payout would be extremely low, making the average insurance rates so insignificant that it wouldn’t have the desired effect on personal responsibility that you hope for…


        If the rates WERE determined by RISK (who was most likely use a gun irresponsibly), would Blacks and Hispanics who live in urban areas be charged more?

        Wouldn’t that be considered racially based discrimination?

        Are you Gun-Grabbers prepared to open that can of worms?

        “ninety-five percent of your murders and murderers, and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take the description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all of the cops. They are male, minorities, 15 to 25. That’s true in New York, it’s true in virtually every city in America.” -Mike Bloomberg

  3. You are missing the point on insurance requirement for gun purchases. It is ‘operator’ error when a gun kills an innocent person. The gun was not secured. The gun was used illegally. There ARE real and sometimes huge costs to everyone else in terms of unreimbursed medical care and first responder costs. Then there are the long term costs of torn apart families, life long medical care, and economic losses in violent neighborhoods, which customers and lenders avoid. Further, compliance will cost money, which gun sellers will pass on to customers. If guns are more expensive, there will be fewer of them. It’s called in economics the elasticity of demand. To the same point, bullets and guns should be heavily taxed so that all of these costs to society can be recouped. That’s why we tax cigarettes. Not that you can ever recoup dead schoolchildren, dead churchgoers, dead moviegoers, dead cops. I’m so sick and tired of trying to debate people who don’t see what gun violence is doing to America.

    • I reiterate. “…having to have insurance might do two things. One, deter some from buying a gun” (added now—this assumes insurance costs are high but that’s not a given). “Two, make gun owners more concerned with theft (which is a big problem in guns being diverted to crime) and perhaps lead more gun owners to secure their weapons in some good faith manner when not in use….”

      As far as the cigarettes v guns analogy, I am not sure it is a good one. Most guns, and their owners, don’t get the cancer of gun violence or inflict it on others, so guns are a very poor “carcinogen”–what proportion of the 300 million plus guns in the US cause the cancer of gun violence (to keep using that metaphor). Heavily taxing all gun owners for the sins of a few, while attractive to those who don’t like guns or their owners, is not analogous to taxing all cigarette smokers since unlike smokers, most gun owners don’t cost the system in gun violence. A substantial portion of smokers do cost the system in lifetime health care costs. I am not sure taxing alcohol solves the alcohol abuse problems although it does contribute to tax income. But a tax so prohibitive that it prevents people from owning guns might be rejected by the courts, at least as long as Heller is law of the land.

      As Mike has said, if we got rid of the vast majority of guns, there would be little gun violence. That’s sort of axiomatic. Putting a prohibitive tax on guns or ammo might be the next thing tried in some liberal states to do just that, and I suspect yet one more thing to litigate.

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