Guns and Gear

Gun Control Group Tracking NICS Checks, Badly


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By Larry Keane

As the trade association for the firearm and ammunition industry, NSSF tracks industry-related data closely. Whether it is the tens of millions of dollars our manufacturers pay in excise tax for conservation projects, the ever-growing popularity of the modern sporting rifle (now exceeding 17 million sold just since 1990), or the broadening market for firearms among all demographics, NSSF tracks it.

Now The Trace, an antigun advocacy group bought and paid for by billionaire Michael Bloomberg that masquerades as a news outlet, has a new tool out that tracks the number of guns purchased in America. They make some adjustments for seasonal variations and sales that include multiple guns.

Being new to a project that NSSF has been doing for decades, their figures are a bit off. Rather than the Trace’s estimated 2.61 million firearms purchased in July, the NSSF’s adjusted NICS figure for July 2020 is 1,848,307. The highest July on record, this is an increase of 122.5 percent compared to the July 2019 NSSF-adjusted NICS figure of 830,579.

Difference More Than A Distinction

How is this different? NSSF’s adjustments are derived by subtracting out NICS purpose code permit checks and permit rechecks used by states for concealed carry permit application checks as well as checks on active concealed carry permit databases. NSSF started subtracting permit rechecks in February 2016. We caution that the data aren’t a direct correlation to firearms sales, rather they represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. Based on varying state laws, local market conditions and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale.

NSSF is also clear about the limitations in the data. Twenty-five states currently have at least one qualified alternative permit, which under the Brady Act allows the permit-holder, who has undergone a background check to obtain the permit, to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer without a separate additional background check for that transfer. The number of NICS checks in these states does not include these legal transfers based on qualifying permits and NSSF does not adjust for these transfers. The states of Alabama and Michigan had law changes that affected their Brady Law standing which removed qualifying alternate permits usage for firearm transactions. These changes went into effect July 22, 2019 for Alabama, and March 3, 2020 for Michigan. In July 2020, Alabama state’s NSSF-adjusted NICS was 230.1 percent higher than July 2019, which accounts for an additional 40,906 checks over this time last year. July 2020 NICS numbers for Michigan were up 403.8 percent over June 2019 and account for an additional 56,359 checks.

The level of detail and analysis involved in NSSF’s adjusted NICS figures is indicative of our long-standing work on this tracking. Perhaps if the gun control activists spent more time analyzing data, and less time manipulating it to argue for more restrictions on law-abiding gun owners, they would have launched a more effective tool.

Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.