The Sad Backdrop to the Giffords Anniversary: Record Gun Sales

Ironically, the president’s executive actions have gun owners stocking up.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
Jan. 8, 2014, 9:51 a.m.

Three years after Rep. Gab­ri­elle Gif­fords suffered a mass shoot­ing that put a bul­let through her head and killed six of her con­stitu­ents, she’s penned a mov­ing op-ed in The New York Times dis­cuss­ing her re­cov­ery ef­forts “learn­ing how to talk again, how to walk again,” and call­ing on Amer­ic­ans to move for­ward with gun-con­trol re­forms.

“Vi­ol­ence is a com­plex prob­lem,” she wrote. “No one law will make it go away.” And yet, fol­low­ing a year when Demo­crats tried migh­tily to pass new gun-con­trol meas­ures in Con­gress and the White House rolled out ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions on dozens of gun-con­trol ini­ti­at­ives, the prob­lem isn’t get­ting any bet­ter.

The FBI’s new stat­ist­ics on NICS back­ground checks show gun sales hit a re­cord high in 2013.

Fire­arm back­ground checks con­duc­ted for gun sales in the last year total 21,093,273. That’s 1,500,970 more than the pre­vi­ous re­cord of 19,592,303 in 2012. The largest num­ber of back­ground checks last year were con­duc­ted in Texas (1,633,278) and Ken­tucky (1,578,331).

The spike comes after Pres­id­ent Obama un­veiled more than a dozen ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions on gun con­trol in 2013 and two more in 2014, fol­low­ing the shoot­ing in New­town, Conn. States that im­ple­men­ted new gun-con­trol meas­ures in 2013 were es­pe­cially likely to see a spike in gun sales. In Mary­land, which re­cently ad­op­ted strict new gun laws, gun sales reached re­cord levels right be­fore the laws went in­to ef­fect in Septem­ber.

It’s a fa­mil­i­ar pat­tern. Fol­low­ing Obama’s elec­tion in 2008, re­tail­ers saw a sim­il­ar spike. “I have been in busi­ness for 12 years,” the own­er of a Vir­gin­ia gun shop told CNN at the time. “I was here for Y2K, Septem­ber 11, Kat­rina, and all of those were big events, and we did no­tice a spike in busi­ness, but noth­ing on the or­der of what we are see­ing right now.”

Gun rights ad­voc­ates feared that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion would even­tu­ally re­in­state an as­sault-weapons ban, which ex­pired in 2004. They also noted Obama’s back­ing of a ban on semi­auto­mat­ic weapons when he served in the Illinois Le­gis­lature.

After Obama’s re­lec­tion in 2012, gun sales surged yet again. With thou­sands of Amer­ic­ans “buy­ing up ammo, hand­guns, and oth­er fire­arms, cit­ing con­cerns that Obama might push new reg­u­la­tions in his second term or that U.N. agree­ments might in­fringe on the U.S. gun mar­ket,” ac­cord­ing to Texas’ Fort Worth Star Tele­gram.

Gun shops traced the sales in­crease to Obama’s reelec­tion vic­tory. In Fort Worth, gun sales were found to be twice as high as the year be­fore, and the FBI re­por­ted an 18 per­cent spike in back­ground checks in the months lead­ing up to the elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to re­ports in the Star Tele­gram and the Hou­s­ton Chron­icle.

While these stat­ist­ics rep­res­ent the num­ber of fire­arm back­ground checks and can­not be used to make a one-to-one cor­rel­a­tion with fire­arm sales, of­fi­cials say back­ground checks are the lead­ing in­dic­at­or of sales growth. The num­bers are mirrored by fin­an­cial data re­leased by fire­arms com­pan­ies for 2013.

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