By Mike Kaszuba
In the aftermath of the latest terrorism attacks in both Paris and San Bernardino, California, many media outlets have reported a rise in firearm sales in the United States.
In November of this year, 39 states posted increases, according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which is administered by the FBI and serves as an indicator of gun sales. The FBI said that Black Friday, which fell two weeks after the Paris attack and marks the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season, set a single-day record for background checks.
But Americans do not need a terrorism event to spike gun sales – the NICS system has been reporting a steady increase for most of its 17 years.
Minnesota has for the most part mirrored much of the country. Though the number of checks in the state rose from 224,165 in 2005 to 297,390 checks in 2010, the figure has jumped substantially in more recent years. While Minnesota had 337,534 background checks in 2011, the total climbed to 525,774 in 2013.
A review by Public Record Media, a St. Paul non-profit that requests and analyzes state and federal public data, showed that in 2014 the state ranked 15th among the 50 states with 481,122 background checks. Six states – led by Kentucky, with 2.4 million background checks – had more than 1 million checks under the NICS system last year. No Upper Midwest state had more NICS checks than Minnesota had in 2014.
In 2013, Minnesota also ranked 15th nationally, and likewise had the highest number of checks among states in the Upper Midwest.
In 1999 – the first full year of the NICS system – Minnesota ranked 22nd among all states with 177,929 background checks. Mandated under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Law) of 1993, NICS checks available public records to quickly determine whether a person may be disqualified from receiving a firearm. The background checks, while serving as a barometer of gun purchase activity, do not necessarily reflect a one-to-one correlation with actual gun sales. Still, during the past decade, annual background checks under NICS have more than doubled nationally, going from 8.9 million in 2005 to 20.9 million in 2014.
While Minnesota has at times been an anomaly, it has mostly followed national trends. Eleven states, for example, had decreases from October through the end of November of this year – a period that included the Paris attacks – and Minnesota was one of them. The state had 50,060 NICS checks in October, and 44,023 in November, joining Hawaii, Montana, North and South Dakota and other, mostly less-populated states that had decreases.
When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, Minnesota had an increase in background checks, going from 17,366 in August to 26,158 in September 2001. Only five states – Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana and Mississippi – had a decrease when those two months are compared.
When President Obama was elected in November 2008, background checks in Minnesota dropped from 30,503 in October to 28,567 in November. Minnesota was just one of six states with decreases during that period.
Following the December, 2012 attack at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Minnesota again had a spike in firearm background checks under NICS. But the spike was part of steady upward trend for the state that had been going on for some years.
From November through December 2012 – the period including the Sandy Hook attack – background checks in Minnesota rose from 40,168 to 55,917. The December figure (55,917) was the only month in 2012 in which background checks topped 44,000.
As recently as 2011, there was no month where firearm background checks topped 40,000 in Minnesota. The same was true in Minnesota for 2010.
In 2009, there were no months with more than 40,000 checks. That changed in 2012, however. That year, there were four months in the state with more than 40,000 background checks – but three occurred before the Sandy Hook tragedy. In 2013, statisitcs climbed even higher. In Minnesota, there were seven months with at least 40,000 background checks in 2013. In 2014, there were six months.
For 2015, there have already been six months in Minnesota with at least 40,000 background checks through NICS. The highest number – 51, 987 checks – took place in March. The FBI figures for 2015 do not yet include December.