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Weapon background checks hit record high in US

Published time: January 03, 2013 17:14
Edited time: January 03, 2013 21:17
Jason Zielinski shows a customer a selection of AR-15 style rifles being offered for sale at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store on December 17, 2012 in Tinley Park, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Jason Zielinski shows a customer a selection of AR-15 style rifles being offered for sale at Freddie Bear Sports sporting goods store on December 17, 2012 in Tinley Park, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Last month, the FBI ran a record 2.8 million background checks on those wishing to purchase firearms in the US, with most of those checks occurring after the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

Background check applications for firearm purchases have been on the rise for years, but spiked dramatically after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month. Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) shows that the agency performed 2.78 million background checks in December, which is up from the 2.01 million conducted during the previous month, which was the first to exceed two million.

The states that saw the largest background check increases from the previous month were Georgia (66.3 percent), Oregon (63. 1 percent), New Hampshire (60.7 percent), Texas (60.2 percent), and Montana (58.3 percent).

While the figures do not indicate the number of new guns sold, they give an approximation of the number of Americans wishing to purchase firearms. Depending on state law, buyers are often allowed to purchase multiple guns under one background check.

December’s 2.8 million background checks are up 50 percent from December 2011, when the FBI performed 1.86 million checks. In total, 19.6 million background checks were performed in 2012, which is not an annual record but is an increase of 19 percent from 2011.

Even though the background checks cannot predict the firearms sold, gun sales also increased in December. Every US state saw a greater number of gun sales last month than in November, with 48 of 50 states also seeing an increase in total firearm sales in 2012. Washington, DC saw the largest year-to-year increase in gun sales, rising by 49.7 percent.

“Handgun sales are up substantially and modern sporting rifles are up astronomically,” Karl Durkheimer, owner of the gun shop Northwest Armory, told The Guardian.  “The people you see are twofold. There are first-time buyers who are in fear of what the future will bring. But most of what you saw is people hedging their bets that there might be a political policy put forward by the liberal side of the government.”

The FBI did not suggest reasons behind the rise in gun sales and background checks, but some attribute the change to fear of tighter gun control regulations in light of the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn. Gun sales and background checks typically also increase during the holiday season.

Past data indicates that mass shootings frequently prompt Americans to stock up on weapons in fear of gun control laws. After 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 and injured 58 in a shooting in Aurora, Colo., applications to buy guns rose by more than 40 percent in a week. After Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot, there was a 60 percent increase in gun sales in a single day in Arizona.

While Americans mourned the death of the 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month, many more headed to their local firearms’ dealer to stock up on handguns and hunting rifles, in the case that Congress passes legislation restricting or limiting eligibility for such purchases.

The FBI background investigations are required under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, which was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton and went into effect on November 30, 1998. During the program’s first month of operation, 871,644 background checks were performed by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is about a third of the number performed this year.

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