2012 Year of the Gun: FBI Background Checks Soar to New Record

Mike Piccione | Editor, Guns & Gear


The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the FBI administered process that enables Federal Firearms Licensed dealers (FFL) to execute a background check on prospective gun buyers.

Background investigations were mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention act of 1993 and the NICS program was instituted November 30, 1998. There were 871,644 background checks performed by the system during December 1998, the program’s first full month in operation.

The year 2006 saw two major milestones for NICS. November 2006 was the first month to execute over one million background checks (1,045,194) and 2006 was the first year to eclipse ten million yearly checks (10,036,933).

November 2008, which ushered in the rise of the Democrats, also saw a rise in background checks to 1,529,635. That number would hold the monthly NICS record until November 2011 when 1,534,414 checks were performed.

NICS numbers are not the number of new guns sold. Buyers are often able to purchase multiple firearms under one background check depending upon their state law.

The NICS system services 30 states, five U.S. territories and the District of Columbia. FFL dealers either phone in or submit a background check online. The FBI runs the system 17 hours a day, 7 days a week closing only for Christmas day.

2012 was busiest year in NICS history. Each month in 2012 saw a record number of background checks set for that month with December showing an all-time record of 2,783,765 checks. November 2012 was the first month to exceed two million checks (2,006,919) in the history of the system.

On December 21, 2012, the peak of this year’s gun buying season, a NICS background check was returned in three hours.

The total number of background checks performed in 2012 was 19,592,303. This number represents a 19% increase from 2011 and exceeds NICS totals for 1998, 1999 and 2000 combined.

Federal denials from the program’s inception in November 30, 1998 until December 31, 2012 total 987,578. The top reason people are declined through the system is “Convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year or a misdemeanor punishable by more than two years” which represents 58.51 % of denials. A domestic violence conviction, the runner-up reason for denials, represents 10.27% of total denials.

Total NICS background checks have risen every year since 2002 when 8,454,322 checks were done. The total number of NICS checks since the program began in 1998 is 160,474,702, theoretically enough for every adult in the United States.

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