Gun sales spike in wake of mass shootings

(NewsNation) — Amid the calls for stricter gun control measures that tend to follow mass shootings, FBI firearm background check data suggests gun sales rose in Texas, Illinois and New York in the wake of shootings that collectively killed 38 people.

In New York, federal firearm background checks rose 54% from May to June after a gunman opened fire in a Buffalo supermarket, killing 10 people.

Federal background checks are often used to gauge gun sales, but it isn’t a direct translation. The reports provided by the FBI represent the number of firearm background checks that were conducted, not the total number of firearms sold. Notably, not all states require background checks.

In Texas, background checks climbed 17% after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers.

Most recently, background checks in Illinois were up nearly 4% from June to July, according to the most recent data available since seven people were killed in a 4th of July parade shooting in Highland Park.

It’s a trend born in part out of concern that proposed gun control efforts introduced after mass shootings will make it harder to buy firearms, resulting in what Syracuse University Political Science Professor Grant Reeher compared to the rising panic buying that took place in the early stages of the pandemic.

“Elected officials are also not immune to the effects of the media coverage of this and they will then oftentimes either be stepping up rhetoric in favor of more gun control or actually pushing pieces of legislation, like we saw at the national level, in the wake of the most recent two mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas,” Reeher said, who serves as the director of the Campbell Public Affairs Institute.

A 2019 study found that every time California strengthened its gun laws—starting in 2012 and each year after—gun sales increased immediately after each law was enacted.

Other factors such as regular hunting seasons and perceived individual personal protection needs can contribute to to the ebb and flow of gun sales, but likely on a smaller scale.

“You’re going to find much more of an effect from mass shootings, the coverage of those shootings and the concerns about future gun regulations,” Reeher said. “But also equal to that (are) different kinds of election outcomes and the similar kinds of concerns that come from gun owners or would-be gun owners in response to those election outcomes.”

The number of potential contributing factors to rising gun sales makes it hard to pinpoint a distinct driver. For example, the FBI conducted more than 2 million background checks nationwide in January 2013 following then-President Barack Obama’s re-election and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“It’ll be interesting to see … what happens with the midterms because that will be another moment,” Reeher said. “Just like we saw gun sales kind of decline after Donald Trump was elected because people were thinking ‘I’m not going to have a problem.’ If the Republicans retake control of Congress, I imagine that you will see some effect in the number of background checks that are being reported from the FBI.”


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