On the eve of the annual Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, Associated Press reporter Lisa Marie Pane wrote an article titled, “Gun industry gathers amid slumping sales, rising tensions.” But it seems as though the AP and their reporter were more concerned with promoting an agenda than accurately reporting the news or reviewing readily available data.
The story was published by the AP on January 19th, picked up by ABC News on the same day, and reproduced in various other national and local outlets in the following days.
The opening paragraph references “slumping sales,” and later paragraphs expound on the reasons and impact of this supposed downturn. The author also makes sure to gratuitously proclaim that the SHOT show is being held “about 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) from the deadliest mass shooting modern U.S. history” [sic].
Slumping firearm sales? Really?
Pane’s half-cocked story came out about two weeks after The Washington Examiner published “Record gun sales checks in 2019, NICS at all-time high: FBI” and after The Hill published an article titled, “2019 gun sale background checks highest since system launch in 1998.”
NICS checks are not a mystery or a Friday afternoon news dump; detailed reports are issued monthly. In early December, MarketWatch published a piece titled “Gun-purchase background checks on track for record high in 2019.” Similar articles were run in other outlets.
Even the Associated Press itself ran such an article, published on December 3rd of last year and also picked up by ABC News on that same day.
You guessed it: Lisa Marie Pane, the same author who wrote the more recent piece alleging slumping sales.
Record-breaking pace or slumping sales? A closer look at the NICS reports can provide some answers.
The FBI reports there were 28,369,750 NICS firearm background checks in 2019 – the most ever.
Now, this number does include permit checks and rechecks but the FBI also provides a breakdown of NICS checks by type.
Last year saw the fourth-highest number of checks for handguns and the sixth-highest year for dealer sales checks ever.
That does not include NICS checks on private sales (41,775 last year) or all dealer sales to permit holders in the 24 states that issue so-called NICS-exempt permits, which can be used as an alternative to the NICS check when purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer.
That means that the number of sales checks may appear artificially low. As the FBI notes in the “NICS Firearm Background Checks: Year by State/Type” report, “Since the permit check is done in place of the NICS check in most of the affected states, the low handgun statistics are often balanced out by a higher number of handgun permit checks.”
In other words, some number of the 3,738,203 permit checks run in NICS exemption states were likely people who ultimately purchased a handgun (or other firearm) with their permits, perhaps even multiple firearms. The overall NICS records do not necessarily account for these permit-based sales. What we do know, however, is that there were a lot of NICS checks for the issuance of NICS-exempt permits.
Another important consideration is that firearms are durable goods – they do not spoil or breakdown, assuming minimal care. Firearms purchased in 2018 still exist. Firearms purchased in the late 90s, when NICS began, still exist. Not every year will be a record-breaking year for sales, and it can be misleading to label any year that doesn’t significantly top the last one as a “slump.”
Maybe Lisa Marie Pane can’t make up her mind, but we’re here to tell you: 2019 was a record-breaking year for sales and permit checks in total. That indicates the American tradition of firearms ownership is as strong and vibrant as ever, and attendees at the 2020 SHOT Show have much to celebrate.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association continues to work hard to protect your Second Amendment rights, just as we have for 148 years.