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Americans Buy More Than 7 Million Guns in March

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) reported their adjusted NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) number for firearm purchases for the month of March 2020. The results are staggering. 

NSSF Figures

The March 2020 NSSF-adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figure of 2,375,525 is an increase of 80.4 percent compared to the March 2019 NSSF-adjusted NICS figure of 1,317,114. For comparison, the unadjusted March 2020 FBI NICS figure 3,709,562 reflects a 42.4 percent increase from the unadjusted FBI NICS figure of 2,604,927 in March 2019.

The first quarter 2020 NSSF-adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figure of 4,841,126 reflects an increase of 41.8 percent over the 3,414,361 figure for the first quarter 2019.

The adjusted NICS data were derived by subtracting out NICS purpose code permit checks and permit rechecks used by states for CCW permit application checks as well as checks on active CCW permit databases. NSSF started subtracting permit rechecks in February 2016.

For those who aren’t familiar with what that means, the data shows that 3,709,562 background checks for firearms were performed in March. Now, some of those could have not been approved for various reasons, but it is also of note that multiple firearms can be on one NICS check. 

NICS numbers March 2020
NICS numbers March 2020

Example: If you purchase five firearms in one transaction, that would be one NICS check even though five firearms were purchased. 

More to the Story

Just because almost 4 million checks were run doesn’t mean that is how man guns were sold. We can reasonably assume that there were a large number of those checks that included multiple guns. 

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. 

What this means is that not all firearm purchases have to run through NICS. If someone in one of these 25 states has already completed a background check, then they are exempt from NICS when purchasing. 

Example: In Texas, a person with an LTC (license to carry) is exempt from NICS because their information is on file with the state. So if an LTC holder in Texas buys a firearm, that doesn’t count toward the NICS number above.

There were so many NICS checks in March that the system was overwhelmed and shut down or took days to process. The total number of NICS checks could have been much higher had the system been able to handle the load. 

Emblem of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (FBI)

Lastly, we need to talk about private sales. Private sales are not run through NICS in most states. However, there are some states that require NICS on handguns but not rifles. Currently, there are about 21 states that require some sort of background check on private sales. 

7 Million or More?

With the NICS numbers, let’s review what we know.

  1. NICS numbers are not a 1-1 correlation to firearm sales
  2. More than one firearm can be purchased on an NICS check
  3. Over half the states have a way for firearm purchases without using NICS
  4. For the most part, private sales of firearms do not require an NICS check

So, it is reasonable to assume that a significant number of firearms were sold and did not receive an NICS, or that multiple firearms were on the single check. It is not a stretch to assume more than 7 million firearms changed hands during the month of March.

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