After the mass shootings in Auoroa, Colo., last summer, the media were flush with articles noting huge runs on guns and spikes in the numbers of background checks associated with firearm purchases.
The stories implied that the gun market was reacting to some kind of regulatory change on the horizon; gun enthusiasts were stockpiling ahead of the imminent firearm drought. That drought never came, just as it never did after the shootings in Arizona in 2011, or Virginia Tech in 2007.
Recent political elections, more than anything else, are associated with high gun sales. After every mass shooting, strong anecdotal evidence suggests that guns are flying off the shelves in gun stores all over the country. But the media are wrong to single out mass shootings as a major factor in the gun market. As KBIA reported this fall, the summer's shootings in Colorado barely moved the dial. Both the local and national data show the same trend in background checks associated with firearms sales: no significant change.
In fact, the FBI has not yet released national background check data for the month of December. Those who suggest that gun sales are up following the shooting in Connecticut make claims without the benefit of key information. Here's what we know so far:
The past two presidential elections are associated with some of the highest spikes in gun purchasing in Missouri history. These same trends are reflected nationally. Another thing you might notice is that gun sales are cyclical: they tend to peak in the winter and drop in the summer. So yes, when this month's background check numbers finally come out, we are likely to see some very high gun sales indeed. But we saw high gun sales last December and the December before that.
If we are to take any one lesson from these numbers it's this: gun sales are not up because of any one mass shooting--gun sales are just up. They've started a steady incline ever since President Obama won the 2008 election. Anecdotally, it seems that in the days following the Newtown Conn. shootings, some gun owners expected imminent legislative backlash. But if the historical sales are any indication, gun enthusiasts have been living with that fear all along.