New surge in gun background checks reported by FBI

Voices from the gun show: High capacity magazines
Voices from the gun show: High capacity magazines

The year 2016 is still on pace to set a record for background checks for gun purchases, according to new data from the FBI.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported on Wednesday that there were 2,145,865 background checks in April. That's the slowest month so far this year, but it's a 25% increase from April 2015.

Background checks in every month this year have made double digit gains over 2015, which had a record number of requests for background checks. If the current pace keeps up, 2016 will beat last year's record.

Related: Only in New York: Bribing cops for a gun license

There's a strong indication that the April slow-down is a cyclical phenomenon, rather than a sign that the gun craze is over. In every full year since the FBI started conducting background checks in 1998, April has been slower than March. The slow-downs tend to continue through the summer, and then background checks pick up again in the fall.

Background checks are not the same thing as gun sales, but they serve as a proxy. Background checks are conducted by the FBI with every gun purchase from a federally licensed dealer. Since one check can cover a single purchase of multiple guns, and since some purchases are not conducted by federally licensed dealers, the FBI data is not a precise read on gun sales.

But one thing is clear. The FBI background check data does show that gun sales are on the rise.

Related: Gun sales surge 26% at Sturm Ruger

This trend began in December 2012 when 26 children and educators were massacred in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. That wasn't the only time that a mass shooting drove gun sales. The record month for background checks was December 2015, when 14 people were murdered in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Gun sales, and therefore background checks, are driven by these events partly because Americans want to protect themselves. Gun purchasers are also afraid that mass shootings will prompt more gun control laws that will make it harder for them to get guns.

Sturm Ruger (RGR) and Smith & Wesson (SWHC), two of the biggest gun companies in the U.S., have reported double-digit gains in sales this year.

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