One of the favorite tactics of the “gun control” extremists for the past eight years or so is to decry pro-rights activists as “racists”, and use the massive uptick of firearm sales during and immediately prior to Obama’s administration as “proof”. I cannot say as though I understand that rationale myself, especially since both then-Senator and then-President Obama are on record as wanting to ban semi-automatic firearms, ban handguns, ban firearms based on aesthetic features, ban lawful carry of firearms, and so forth – you know, the kinds of things that would prompt people to purchase something before it became unavailable – but the “gun control” movement has never been big on logic.
In any case, now that Obama is no longer in office, the “gun control” extremists are using the supposedly decreased firearm sales as further “proof” of the “racist” nature of the pro-rights advocates, as well as “proof” that firearm owners are a “dying breed”, and on, and on, and on.
But are gun sales actually down?
The answer to that question is, “Given predictable, seasonal trends, not particularly.”
First, there is no 100% reliable metric for the number of firearms sold at Federal Firearm Licensees (i.e. gun stores). Yes, the FBI does publish the number of National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks performed every month, but the caveat at the bottom of that PDF is very important:
These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold. Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale.
For example, in North Carolina, if one has a Concealed Handgun Permit in good standing, a purchaser still has to fill out a Form 4473, but no NICS check must be performed. Likewise, there is no limit to the number of firearms that can be purchased on a single NICS check, so one check can be one firearm, or one check can be a hundred.
All that said, most parties – both in the “gun control” camp and in the pro-rights camp – consider NICS checks to be at least an indicator of how the firearm sales market is doing. Just bear in mind that it is not an accounting of actual sales, and does not even provide an actual floor for the numbers.
Second, how do you quantify “down”?
If one looks at the average monthly NICS checks for the past four Presidents, you will see that President Trump is actually in the lead:
But that is not a strictly fair comparison, since he has only had four months in office, while Obama had 96 (for the sake of simplicity, despite United States Presidents being inaugurated on the 20th of January, I am counting their time in office from the first of February to the 31st of January, since the data is provided on a by-month basis).
So what about the actual number of NICS checks per month?
So a few things stand out on this chart.
On the one hand, firearms are apparently a very popular Christmas gift, and the NICS checks reflect this seasonal nature.
On the other hand, there has been an almost steady increase in NICS checks since 2002 – seven years before Obama took office.
On the gripping hand, yes, NICS checks did peak out at 3,314,594 in December of 2015, and, likewise, are now at 1,942,677 in May of 2017.
The problem with simply calling out those two months, however, is that it is blatant cherry-picking. It is true that the peak checks in Obama’s presidency is higher than the lowest checks in President Trump’s time in office, but that does not even come close to telling us if the total checks are down under the new President.
For example, as I said previously, there is an obvious seasonal nature to NICS checks, with December almost invariably being “high season”, and May or June typically being the “low season”. In fact, if one looks at the percentage drop from the peak month in one year to the low month in the following year, you will see that President Trump’s May is doing better than average, and, in fact, the second-largest seasonal drop happened during Obama’s administration:
Likewise, note that this past May – likely either the low month for this year, or close to it – still had more checks than any May before it.
The fact is, firearm sales have been massively trending upwards for the past 14 years. Given that the trend started well before an African-American President, and given that the President in question was adamantly and openly anti-rights, the allegations of “racism” are about as valid as trying to claim that firearm sales are “down” based on all of four months of data.
That is to say, not at all valid.
(Note: This is not to say that firearm sales are not going to drop during President Trump’s term(s), just that claiming that they are “down” already is incorrect at the time of this post. Someone else is more than welcome to try to do predictive analytics on the numbers (*.xlsx file), but seasonal averages with an underlying trend are a pain in the ass, and I am not willing to undertake that at this time.)