Gun Background Checks Skyrocket in Nearly All States

FBI Background checks for firearms jumped last month as calls for gun control intensified. View totals for each state.
by | January 11, 2013 AT 12:15 PM

FBI background checks for firearms soared to a record high last month as public debate over gun control intensified in wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shootings.

The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System processed 2.8 million requests in December -- nearly a million more than the December 2011 tally.

Gun background checks typically spike each December with increased Christmas gift sales. Recent talk of tighter firearms restrictions also likely spurred some consumers to stock up on guns and ammunition, pushing background check totals even higher.

Thirty-six states recorded a year-over-year monthly increase of firearm background checks exceeding 50 percent last month. Only Wisconsin, which saw a surge in background checks after a new concealed weapons law went into effect a year ago, registered a decline.

Vice President Joe Biden held a series of meetings at the White House Thursday with the National Rifle Association and other lobbying groups as the administration set its sights on proposing new gun control measures. Biden gave reporters a preview of potential recommendations, including requiring universal background checks for all types of firearms transactions.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has proposed further checks for ammunition sales.

Federal firearms licensees use the system to determine whether a transfer of a firearm violates federal or state law by checking an individual’s record for matches in three national databases. Checks aren’t needed for private sales. Individuals also often purchase multiple firearms at a time, only requiring a single background check.

For these reasons, the number of FBI background check requests doesn’t represent how many firearms actually change hands.

The following states recorded the largest year-over-year percentage increases in monthly background checks last month compared to December 2011:

  • New Hampshire: 102%
  • Rhode Island: 97%
  • Virginia: 79%
  • Oregon: 78%
  • Alaska: 75%
  • Massachusetts: 73%
  • Florida: 73%
  • South Dakota: 73%
  • Delaware: 72%
  • Hawaii: 70%

Kentucky issued about 2.6 million background checks in all of 2012 – nearly double that of any other state. The state’s high annual total likely stems from its policies regarding concealed firearm permit holders, who in some cases are subject to monthly background checks.

Governing compiled NICS background checks for states dating back to 2010, shown in the graph below. Please note that figures are not comparable between many states. Some may report data differently, for example, or have varying policies in place affecting background checks.