Last week, Associated Press reporter Matt Stroud incorrectly implied that the recent increase in firearm-related background checks run through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) frequently results in violent criminals beating the system and acquiring guns.
Noting that in situations in which NICS cannot complete a check on a prospective gun buyer within three business days, a firearm dealer is allowed to transfer a firearm to the person, Stroud hyperbolically wrote, “More gun sales than ever are slipping through the federal background check system. . . . [S]omeone is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes. Mass shootings are happening every few weeks. . . . If three business days pass without a federal response, buyers can legally get their guns, whether or not the check was completed.”
What Stroud neglected to mention–besides the fact that gun ownership is at an all-time high and the nation’s murder rate has fallen to at least a 57-year low–is that the FBI continues running checks after the three-day period has elapsed and reports all ultimate denials to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) on a daily basis. Thereafter, BATFE personnel and local law enforcement officers can and do take action to separate prohibited persons from any firearms they may have acquired during the delay.
Stroud also implied, incorrectly, that every individual who is delayed is presumptively prohibited and would pose a danger if successful in obtaining a firearm. That is certainly not the case, as identities can be confused, arrests don’t necessarily lead to prosecutions or convictions, and later events (like reductions in or dropping of charges, restoration of rights, or reversals of convictions) are not always reflected in the records available to NICS. Indeed, the provisions of the Gun Control Act allowing (but not requiring) licensed dealers to release firearms to purchasers three days after a NICS check is initiated without a subsequent denial recognize that such events are a very real possibility and that people should not be denied their rights based on unsubstantiated or incomplete information.
Stroud was right about at least one thing, though. Gun purchases are still taking place at an accelerated clip. The FBI reports that the number of firearm background checks conducted on “Black Friday” this year was the second highest in the history of NICS. The highest number of checks on a single day occurred on December 21, 2012, two days after President Barack Obama came out for banning AR-15s and other general purpose rifles, banning ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, and imposing a so-called “universal checks” requirement on private firearm sales, trades and gifts.
NICS statistics aren’t a perfect measure of how many guns Americans are buying, but they suggest that after a large increase in the number of firearm checks coinciding with Obama’s reelection and subsequent push for gun control, from November 2012 until the second quarter of 2013, they have returned to levels that would have been expected in the absence of the Obama-provoked “surge.”
However, over time such NICS checks have steadily increased with a continuing decline in violent crime. The NICS data vindicate gun owners and give all Americans even more reason to doubt gun control supporters’ half-baked theories and unsupportable claims.