Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Florida Gun Background Checks on Track to Be Record-Setting

Analysts attribute the surge in background checks for firearm purchases to a fear of COVID-related closures, a summer of protests and a contentious presidential election in the fall. But the increase in purchases has created shortages.

(TNS) — Background checks for firearm purchases in Florida declined by more than 12 percent through September compared to the first nine of months of 2020, but 2021 remains on pace to be one of the state's most active years for gun sales, according to statistics provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

According to the FDLE's data, just shy of 1 million background checks — 999,642 in all — took place through September. The state surpassed 1 million checks during the first week of October, reaching the third-highest total currently on record.

In 2020, described as a historic year for gun sales, Florida had 1.5 million background checks, the highest total since the FDLE began releasing such statistics in 2004.

Analysts have cited several factors as helping to fuel the unprecedented surge. The coronavirus pandemic left some people out of work, and there were concerns at its outset in March that some states would close gun stores, leading to an early run on purchases.

That summer also brought protests over incidents such as the police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, which some say led to many to buy firearms for the first time. November brought a presidential election and a change in parties at the White House.

Federal law requires the background checks for all gun sales by licensed dealers. The FDLE's statistics do not indicate whether a background check resulted in a gun being sold.

Some local gun retailers said sales at their stores have remained consistent despite the statewide decline in background checks. But they also said that higher-than-normal demand for firearms and ammunition dating to last year has made it more difficult to acquire those items, in part contributing to the decrease.

"It's more that it's just hard getting stuff than it is the sales," said Ramon Viamonte, owner of USA Guns Defense and Ammo in Palm Springs. "The sales have been maintaining. I think the decline is probably because of the lack of firearms. I still have the same flow (of customers) I've had since opening this location."

Brandon Wexler, owner of Wex Gunworks off Federal Highway in Delray Beach, said firearms have become easier to acquire in recent months, but keeping ammunition in stock has been more difficult.

"Stuff is still on an allocated basis across the board," he said. "It's almost like the stock market. It's up, down, left, right. I know that ammunition is still a little tight.

"As far as firearms go, I feel that has gotten a lot better than last year, but you have to stay on it. I can't hope that stuff comes in. I really have to talk to my salespeople and get in and out."

One Study Finds 14.8M Firearms Sold Through September

The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Checks System, or NICS, showed more than 30 million background checks conducted nationally through the end of September for 2021, surpassing the total for every year since the program's launch in 1998, with the exception of 2020, when a record 39.7 million background checks were conducted.

Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a consulting firm based in Greenville, S.C., estimates about 1.45 million firearms were sold nationally this past September, an 18 percent decrease from September 2020. It also estimates that about 14.8 million firearms were sold during the first nine months of 2021, compared to 16.7 million during the same period in 2020.

The 2021 sales figures are higher than the entirety of both 2018 and 2019, which each having just shy of 14 million sales, according to the firm's statistics.

In Palm Beach County, more people applied for new concealed weapon and firearm licenses than during the state's most recent fiscal year ending in June than the previous one, while fewer applied for renewals, the Florida Department of Agriculture said.

From July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021, the time period for Florida's fiscal year, the state issued 15,479 new concealed weapons and firearm license permits for Palm Beach County and renewed 5,354 out of 5,428 applications, according to the Department of Agriculture's statistics — a renewal rate of 98.6 percent.

By comparison, the county had 7,648 new permits issued and 9,044 renewals out of 9,087 applications from July 1, 2019, to June, 30, 2020, a rate of 99.5 percent, state records show. Under Florida law, a concealed weapon and firearm license is valid for seven years.

Background Checks Decreased During Summer Months

State and national figures showed fewer background checks done during the spring and summer months this year compared to 2020. The FDLE's data shows year-over-year decreases for each month from May through September. The FBI's data shows decreases each month from June through September.

While some of the factors that fueled gun sales last year have waned, the coronavirus pandemic and financial insecurity remain areas of concern among gun buyers this year, said Benjamin Dowd-Arrow, director of the Bachelors in Public Health Science program at Florida State University.

"We've seen these massive increases for the last little over a year and, yes, they're down some, but they're still so far above what we'd be expecting to see," he said. "We're still way high because people are still on edge with COVID (and) the economics that are happening."

Dowd-Arrow noted that gun sales remained high in January and February. The FBI reported 4.3 million background checks in January, a 60 percent increase over January 2020. In Florida, the FDLE reported an 81 percent increase during the same time frame, to 151,954 from 83,782.

Heavy Demand in 2020 Fuels Firearm, Ammunition Shortages In 2021

Citing academic studies, Dowd-Arrow said tensions over the results of the presidential election — including the Jan. 6 riot outside the U.S. Capitol — factored into the early-year spike.

"We also had a lot of spikes in gun sales in January and February as individuals thought that there was going to be some kind of tension between supporters of the former president and others, so there was this huge spike," he said. "But as those things really didn't pan out, those numbers began to recede a little bit."

Wexler said that the summer months — when fewer people are living in South Florida — are typically a slower time for sales, but noted that his shop began to see an uptick in sales again in September.

"This past summer was slower than the summer before because the summer before was wrapped around COVID, which is still obviously a concern," he said.

The National Sports Shooting Foundation, the firearm industry's trade association, estimates that 8.4 million people in the U.S. bought a firearm for the first time in 2020. Wexler said the increased demand created challenges for firearm and ammunition manufacturers that still affect supplies today.

"It comes down to the materials to build a firearm," he said. "We have metals, we have plastics. The raw materials to build anything nowadays, it's been tricky. ... I think a big issue was that the demand was obviously much bigger than the supply. To get materials was impossible and that's what I think backed them up."

Dowd-Arrow said that even big-box retail chains that sell guns and ammunition have also been affected by the shortages.

"We started seeing ammunition shortages (in 2020) and we're still kind of experiencing those," he said. "Like if you go into any Walmart right now, they don't have any ammunition on shelves for handguns."

©2021 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Special Projects