The numbers are in, and it appears that December of last year was one of the best months of 2014 for gun retailers. According to data from the FBI, more than 2.3 million background checks were submitted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) last month, a increase of over 300,000 over the same period in 2013. December 2014 did fall short of the record 2,780,000 background checks conducted in the holiday season of 2012, yet it remains one of the best months of the past decade for gun retailers.
The FBI noted that background checks do not necessarily represent gun sales, and that a “one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale,” yet many experts agree that the number of checks submitted through the NICS is a good indicator of market trends—and business appears to be booming. The amount of background checks submitted in 2014 was high in the first three months of the year, peaking in March at nearly 2,500,000. Demand dipped in April but steadily rose through the remainder of the year, and was helped along in November by a staggering 175,000 background checks in one day: Black Friday. Interest in purchasing firearms was so high on November 28 that the FBI’s criminal justice center in West Virginia—where 500 federal employees run the checks submitted through the NICS—had to hire 100 additional personnel and ask workers to take on extra shifts.
The buying frenzy appears to have spread into December, due in part to events like the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, where violent clashes occurred between protesters and police over the death of Michael Brown. Gun retailers in the area, including nearby St. Louis, said business was especially brisk.
“People are coming in with fear in their eyes and they’re saying they need something to protect their house,” Steven King, owner of a gun shop in the St. Louis suburb of Bridgeton, told CNN. “They’re scared to death.”
King said that his store usually sells between five to 10 firearms a day, but since the unrest has been selling as many as 50 a day since August, when the first riots occurred. When a grand jury elected not to indict Darren Wilson, the officer involved with the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in late November, sales once again surged.
In other parts of the country, the rise in gun sales was attributed to increased holiday shopping and renewed interest in firearms due to the availability of ammunition, which was scarce in 2013.