Guess What? The FBI Is Now Reporting Background Checks on Private Sales!

I’m not one to go around patting government bureaucracies on the back, but I have to admit that one such bureaucracy of which I have been less than positive in the past has made an important change in the way it conducts its regulatory activity, and it’s a change that’s positive in every respect.  I am referring to the new 4473 background check form which the ATF released in 2016 but it now required for every FFL-transaction beginning January 1st of the current year. And what this change amounts to is an additional data field on the form that describes the transaction as a sale, a pawn redemption or – and here’s the dooda – a transaction to ‘facilitate a private transfer.’

atf            What this means is that, for the first time, the FBI-NICS data, which is published monthly on a state-by-state basis, will be able to show how many private transactions are now going through the same background-check process that is required for all dealer sales.  According to the Law Center, there are 10 states (plus DC) that currently require background checks on all private sales.  There’s also an additional eight states that require background checks on handguns or transactions conducted at gun shows, so we still have a long way to go. But the year-end FBI-NICS report for 2016 should be looked at in detail, because it tells a different story about the whole regulatory environment than what Gun-nut Nation would like to believe.

Back in October, Fox trumpeted that the background check numbers indicated that 2016 would set another record for gun sales, a claim that was joyously validated by the Washington Examiner when year-end NICS totals were released. And while it’s true that background checks for gun sales did go up 11% year-over-year, calls to the FBI-NICS phone bank to validate or check license and permits jumped by one-third! Of the 27.4 million NICS calls that set the all-time record in 2016, almost half of the telephone traffic (including pawn redemptions) were calls that had nothing to do with gun sales at all.  Of course if you’re a gun manufacturer, being in an industry that sold more than 14 million guns isn’t chopped liver, but 14 million guns ain’t 27 million guns, which is what the intrepid reporters at Fox and other pro-gun outlets would like you to believe.

The year-end NICS number for private transactions was 26,641, of which 14,561 were handguns, 11,042 were long guns and 1,038 were ‘other’ guns which, in case you were wondering, normally means serialized AR receivers and other junk like that.  But while this is a tiny number when compared to background checks on primary sales, it’s interesting to note that dealers in only 8 states reported no private transactions at all. Which means that FBI-NICS checks on private transfers are taking place in many more states than the 18 states where private-sale background checks are required by law.  Remember when Hot Air Queen Laura Ingraham scoffed at the surveys which showed that a majority of gun owners favored private-sale NICS checks?

Obviously the states that require universal checks registered most of the private sales in 2016 – New York, for example, had almost 25% of the year-end total for all 50 states; tiny little Delaware added 3%, Massachusetts chipped in another 6%, and so on down the line. But let’s remember that until 2017 numbers start coming in for background checks, we really won’t know how many gun owners really use the NICS system since the new 4473 was optional until this current year.

On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that of the 26,000 private transactions captured by NICS in 2016, almost 54% involved the transfer of handguns, which is where the whole issue of unregulated gun transfers really lies.  Because when Grandpa’s old shotgun is sold at a tag sale for ten bucks, this transaction really won’t change gun violence numbers one bit. But 14,000 private handgun transfers that required NICS checks is a good thing.


A New Record For Yearly FBI-NICS Calls? Not So Fast.

The results for 2016 are finally in! We now know, according to the FBI, that their NICS-FBI phone center handled more than 27 million calls last year, by far the highest annual total since NICS started operating at the end of 1998. Leading up to 2016 the FBI had logged an average of 18 million calls every year since Obama showed up in DC, so no wonder that Gun-nut Nation is rejoicing with the number for 2016.

nics             There’s only one little problem with this number.  It doesn’t really tell you anything about how many new guns were sold. And that’s the only number which really means anything to the gun industry because when one person sells a used gun to someone else, the size of the civilian arsenal doesn’t increase one little bit. And when you start breaking down the FBI-NICS numbers into their component parts based on the reason for the call, things change in very interesting ways.

Let’s go back to 2009, the first year that a certified gun-grabber moved into the Big House.  Okay, he wasn’t such a gun-grabber in 2009, that didn’t really get going until after Sandy Hook.  But 2009 can serve as a point of comparison because the nearly 14 million NICS-checks were still the highest for any year up until that point in time. Of those calls, 600,000 were pawn redemptions and 4.4 million were background checks run for issuing permits; hence, actual background checks on gun sales was roughly 9 million calls.

Now we move to 2011 and total calls are 16.3 million; 700,000 from pawn shops and 5.5 million for licenses; so now gun checks are around 12 million calls, a jump of one-third.  Of course the 2013 total calls were now almost 21 million given the noise in DC after Sandy Hook, of which 14 million were gun checks with pawn redemptions and license applications eating up the rest.

Which brings us to the banner year of 2016: 11.6 million license applications, slightly less than 800,000 pawns and 14.8 million calls for gun purchased over the counter, basically the same number of gun sales as occurred in 2013.  Notice that from 2009 to 2016, calls for validating gun transfers conducted by FFL dealers increased by 55%.  Notice that pawn redemptions stayed about the same.  Notice that checks on backgrounds for gun licenses and permits increased by 160%!

Here’s the bottom line: there’s no doubt that year-to-year increases in gun sales have occurred.  Compare what happened under Obama to what happened under George W. Bush where total NICS calls went up by less than 20% over the entire eight years.  But what really drove telephone traffic to the FBI call center the last few years wasn’t any kind of skyrocketing demand for guns; it was the increase in background checks being conducted just to see if someone could own a gun.

Of the record 27 million calls received by the FBI in 2016, roughly 52% involved the purchase of a gun.  In 2015, gun checks were 57% of all calls, in 2014 it was 60% -every year while the total number of NICS calls goes up, an increasing percentage of the calls has to do with regulating gun ownership, not expanding the actual number of guns that are owned.

Believe me, I don’t think that gun makers need to sit around crying into their beer.  The gun industry is alive and well, and 14.8 million FFL gun transfers to customers in one year is still a s**tload of guns. But for those who believe that the key to reducing gun violence is through using background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands, the FBI-NICS data clearly indicates that the background check process has grown more steadily than the sale of guns themselves. Gee, who would have thought that could happen?