U.S. gun sales hit a record high since Obama's re-election

High-end rifles in a gun shop in Arizona in 2011
High-end rifles in a gun shop in Arizona in 2011 MCT

To the nation’s gun lobby and gun rights advocates, the Obama administration is public enemy No. 1.

Yet the president has proven to be a boon for gun sales.

In the four years since Barack Obama was first elected president in November 2008, an estimated 67 million firearms have been purchased in the United States. That’s more than were sold in almost seven years before his first election.

Now come concerns that Obama will push through stricter gun laws — although in four years he’s yet to push for them.

With Obama starting a second term in office — and anti-gun fervor stoked by shooting massacres in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. — an unprecedented surge in the sales of firearms has taken off.

December 2012 saw a record-shattering number of requests for criminal background checks on prospective gun buyers — more than 116,000 of those from Kansas and Missouri alone.

“Since Obama was re-elected,” said Gary Jessup of UT Arms in Kansas City, Kan., “it’s been off the chart.”

Nationwide, more than 2.7 million of those checks were recorded for December, according to statistics kept by the FBI. Since late 1998 when federal law began mandating such checks for prospective gun buyers, the only other month that exceeded the 2 million mark was November 2012 — when Obama won a second term.

While the FBI said such checks do not represent the actual number of firearms sold, experts say the background check requests do provide the best measure of firearms sales in the United States.

Based on those numbers, 2012 was a record-setting year for gun sales in the country with more than 19 million background checks conducted.

Local gun retailers say the year-end surge has continued right on into 2013. Dealers say the only thing putting a damper on sales is that demand is outstripping the supply.

“Demand went crazy and people bought up everything that was there,” said Becky Bieker, owner of She’s A Pistol gun shop in Shawnee.

Since the background check law took effect in November 1998, more than 160 million checks have been conducted, according to the FBI.

The checks are required whenever someone seeks to make a firearm purchase from a licensed firearms dealer. Because some of those transactions can involve multiple weapons and because some people are denied as a result of the check, the FBI said a “one-to-one correlation” between checks and sales cannot be made.

Since the checks were implemented there have been 987,578 denials, according to the FBI. Most of those rejections were triggered by prior felony convictions or misdemeanor domestic violence.

Other reasons for denial include being dishonorably discharged from the military, having a court record of mental health problems, being in the country illegally or being the subject of a domestic violence restraining order.

In Missouri, more than 513,000 background checks were requested in 2012, nearly doubling the total from five years earlier. It puts Missouri 12th in the country for per capita checks with 85 per 100,000 people.

Kansas saw a similar near doubling from five years previously after recording more than 210,000 checks in 2012, according to the FBI statistics. That puts Kansas 23rd in the country with 73 checks per 100,000.

“The government is threatening to take their guns away,” Steve Brackeen of Blue Steel Guns in Raytown said of the sentiment expressed by many of his customers.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in mid-December, there was a run on military-style semi-automatic rifles, though that rush has “settled down,” according to Brackeen.

Those were the kinds of weapons targeted by the “assault weapons” ban that took effect in 1994 and ultimately faded away in 2004.

That law banned the new manufacture of those types of weapons and also limited the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines. However, the law exempted weapons that were already in circulation.

Many people are now buying those kinds of weapons and magazines that they think may be subject to a new ban, gun dealers say.

“People are afraid they’re going to try to stop them from buying them in the future,” said Jessup of UT Arms.

Kathy Peisert, owner of Great Guns in Liberty, said some people are even looking at purchasing items as an investment.

“If they’re banned,” she said, “the prices will rise.”

But because people are uncertain what new gun regulations could be enacted, dealers say, they are buying all types of weapons.

The demand for high-capacity magazines — magazines that hold a large number of rounds — has been particularly strong.

Thirty-round magazines for AR-15 rifles are “long gone,” Bieker said. She said some of her customers have told her they’ve seen them being sold for $150 to $200, or 10 times the usual price.

And there is now a two-week delay in obtaining some kinds of high-capacity handgun magazines from wholesalers, who have a back-up of orders in with manufacturers.

“I used to be able to get them the next day, no problem, and in any quantity,” Bieker said.

Along with the surge in demand for weapons, increasing numbers of people are seeking permits to carry concealed weapons.

In December, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office received 281 applications. That capped a year when 2,329 applications were received. That number eclipsed any previous year, and more than doubled the number for 2011.

The more politicians talk about controlling guns, said Jessup of UT Arms, the more people are motivated to buy them.

“People who don’t like the stuff,” he said, “are driving sales.”