Editor’s Note: The following is a column written by Larry Keane, the senior vice president, assistant secretary and general counsel to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc. It originally appeared on the NSSF website on June 8, 2017.
We have now seen three straight months of steady or increasing NICS numbers.
May was a record-breaking month for firearm background checks—the highest number of checks for that typically slower sales month ever processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). In total, the FBI/NICS processed 1,942,677 checks, an increase of more than 70,000 from the May 2016 number. Our NSSF-adjusted NICS May figure of 988,473 shows an increase of 6.5 percent compared to the May 2016 NSSF-adjusted NICS figure of 928,532.
The adjusted NICS data are derived by subtracting out NICS purpose code permit checks and permit rechecks used by several states such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Utah for CCW permit application checks as well as checks on active CCW permit databases.
The NSSF-adjusted NICS data provide a snapshot of current market conditions, although it is not a direct one-to-one correlation to firearms sales. It is important to note that FBI/NICS and NSSF-adjusted NICS figures do not account for firearm sales using approved alternate permits such as a concealed carry license. Several states allow the use of such alternate permits. So, those sales are not captured.
In recent years, the mainstream media has developed a knack of speculating why gun sales go up—or go down—and they usually miss the complete picture. They tend to over-politicize the sales environment. Reporters look to consumer fear of more restrictive gun control laws, and point to acts of terrorism , mass-shootings. Make no mistake, these factors do play a role – they are just overemphasized most of the time.
Reporters rarely take much time to speak with retailers and gun owners about why they own guns or why the industry is seeing growing or steady sales. They like to report on months when sales dip and ignore or downplay months when they rise – unless there is a mainstream media political narrative popular at the time.
Although we at NSSF point this out all the time and we are often quoted, the underlying sales factor that gets short shrift is that more people are participating in the shooting sports. While many new shooters first try their hand with a rental or loaner, active participation in a shooting sport generally leads individuals to buy a gun—and quite often, as their interest grows, more than one. Individuals who first buy a firearm for self-defense often find they enjoyed the initial training and returning to practice their marksmanship. They buy a second gun and, often, seek additional training.
The data show that target shooting participation in the U.S. increased 44 percent from 34.4 million Americans in 2009 to 49.4 million Americans in 2016. The shooting sports are an engaging pursuit offering numerous opportunities for participation available to people of all ages. New shooters are younger, are more female and increasing diverse in ethnicity. The shooting sports are affordable, accessible, and more inclusive than ever before and people are taking full advantage. Even if the industry has room to become more welcoming and inclusive, our customer base is changing along with the American population. They are buying firearms and going to the range. All are welcome.