January 10, 2016
2015 was a record year for the National Instant Checks System (NICS), and for firearm sales. The previous record year was in 2013, another year in which President Obama put considerable effort into passing strict gun control, and failed. It is one of the few policies that President Obama has not been able to use his allies in the media to ram legislation through Congress. In 2013, there were 21,093,271 background checks completed through NICS, according to the FBI. That amounted to 16,031,210 additional private firearms added to the stocks, according to the ATF.
The numbers for NICS checks are in for 2015. It was the highest year on record, beating out 2013 with an increase of nearly 10 percent. There were 23,141,970 NICS background checks in 2015. Eight of the 12 months of the year also made all time records. December, as usual, had the greatest number of NICS checks for the year, 3,314,594. Only one year had NICS checks higher in a month other than December. That year and month was November, 2008, the year and month that President Obama was elected. In November of 2008, there were 1,529,635 NICS checks. In December, 2008, there were 1,523,426 NICS checks.
NICS background checks do not have a one to one correspondence to increases in the private stock of firearms in the United States. There are many reasons for this. Some NICS checks are done for used guns. Those guns are already in the private stock of guns in the United States, so they do not increase it. Some NICS checks are made for people who are obtaining a concealed carry permit, but are not necessarily purchasing a gun; once people obtain a carry permit, most do not need to go through the NICS system again if they purchase a gun. Several guns can be purchased for one individual on one NICS check.
There is a high correlation between NICS checks and the increase in private firearms stocks. In 2013, the last record year, one NICS check corresponded to .7599 new private firearms. 2014 and 2015 are both very similar to 2013 in the number of NICS checks. The .7599 ratio was used to extrapolate the increase in private firearms during those years.
The actual increase in the private stock in previous years comes from figures that are reported by the ATF. Those numbers are the number of firearms manufactured in the United States (excluding those for the military) plus imports, minus exports. Those numbers will not be available for 2014 for a couple of months; it will be over a year before the 2015 numbers will be ready.
The extrapolation shows that we can expect that 15,936,000 private firearms were added to the stock in 2014, and 17,587,000 were added to the stock in 2015. If the 2013 ratio holds, that means that the private firearms stock increased from 363.3 million in 2013, to 396,493,000 at the end of 2015.
There were about 308 million private firearms in the United States at the start of the Obama presidency. If we omit the millions of firearms that were added during and after the election in 2008, that would be an increase of 88.5 million private firearms during the Obama Presidency, at the end of 2015. There is an entire year to go.
President Obama’s town hall on CNN about guns has us off to a good start. If the current trend continues, another 16-17 million firearms will be added in 2016, increasing the stocks to 412 million firearms. 105 million, or over one fourth of the total, will have been added during the Obama years. That is 10 million more than all the firearms that existed in the private firearms stock in 1968, when the current push for gun control started.
It is an enormous legacy, one that President Obama can be justly proud of. The useful life of a modern firearm is measured in centuries. This legacy, measured in the increase in private stock of firearms, may be the most lasting legacy of the Obama Presidency.
Source for NICS numbers: From fbi.gov(pdf)