Alabama appears to have led the national run on guns last month.
It’s not that Alabamians purchased the most. But Alabama saw the nation’s largest spike in applications for firearm background checks, a sudden rise of 145 percent, between the months of October and December.
Federal background checks spiked in every single state following the presidential election and the shooting in Newtown, according to FBI data on background checks. Background checks normally rise before Christmas. But as 2012 ended with debate over gun control, the rise wentwell beyond the normal uptick for holiday shopping.
And the increased interest wasn’t limited to the South.
Tennessee saw background checks rise 130 percent between October and December, the second largest spike. But an al.com analysis of federal background checks shows Tennessee was followed in order by Delaware, Mississippi, Oregon and Virginia. In all, 16 states filed for more than twice as many firearm background checks in December as in October. That includes Ohio, Rhode Island and Nevada.
The data comes from the FBI, and is not a perfect match with sales, as states have different requirements for checks and some customers are denied. But the rising interest in gun ownership is clear.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, December 2012 marked the highest number of background checks ever. The NSSF, based in Newtown, Conn., is the firearm trade association.
Nationally, Kentucky saw the smallest spike at the end of 2012, with background checks up just 17 percent from October to December. But that’s because, according to the NSSF, Kentucky already conducts many more checks than other states, routinely inquiring about people who hold active concealed carry permits.
For perspective, Kentucky filled out 6 background check applications for every 10 citizens. No other state sees a fraction as much activity per capita.
In terms of applications per capita, Alabama ranked 10th, with roughly nine background checks for every 100 citizens in 2012. However, Alabama jumped to 7th in background checks per capita during a busy December.
NSSF, which adjusts for those extra checks by Kentucky and a couple other states, found a small rise already starting nationwide in January of 2012 over January of 2011. Checks in June were up 25 percent over June of 2011. But the spike grows largest by year’s end, as the NSSF’s adjusted numbers show the FBI handled about 1.4 million checks in December of 2011 compared to more than 2.2 million in December of 2012. That’s a year-over-year jump of 59 percent.
NSSF reports that December 2012 marked the 31st consecutive month that checks rose over the same month in the previous year.
According to the FBI, the National Instant Criminal Background System, or NICS, was launched in 1998. Federal Firearms Licensees can use the system to determine who is eligible to buy a firearm, checking for categories such as illegal aliens, fugitives, convicts, those who have been committed, individuals currently under restraining orders and military personnel who were dishonorably discharged.
“Before ringing up the sale, cashiers call in a check to the FBI or to other designated agencies to ensure that each customer does not have a criminal record or isn’t otherwise ineligible to make a purchase. More than 100 million such checks have been made in the last decade, leading to more than 700,000 denials,” reads the FBI information on the NICS web page.
However, recent political debate has turned to flaws in the system. For instance, states are not legally required to supply the records necessary to maintain a meaningful federal database. And unlicensed gun sellers can get around the system.
Updated on Jan. 10 at 7:44 p.m. to show Tennessee saw the second largest spike in background checks between October and December.