Firearm Background Checks per State

Firearm Background Checks per State
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There is no way to know how many guns will be sold in the U.S. this year.

To better understand the patterns of gun sales in the U.S., we examined the number of background checks initiated through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in 2016 (through August, the last month data were available at the time of this writing). We compared the data to privately conducted background checks, as well as the total number of registered firearms in each state for the year, to ascertain not just how many guns are being sold, but how many guns are possibly being sold without extensive background checks being conducted. Read on to see what we uncovered.

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To better understand the patterns of gun sales in the U.S., we examined the number of background checks initiated through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in 2016 (through August, the last month data were available at the time of this writing). We compared the data to privately conducted background checks, as well as the total number of registered firearms in each state for the year, to ascertain not just how many guns are being sold, but how many guns are possibly being sold without extensive background checks being conducted. Read on to see what we uncovered.

Checking in on Firearms

In the United States, anyone looking to purchase a gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer must submit to a background check administered by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Since 1998, the NICS has facilitated over 245 million background checks, all designed to ensure that guns are in the hands of safe, law-abiding citizens.

New Hampshire had the highest number of background checks for handguns (pistols and revolvers) in 2016, at almost 3,500 guns per 100,000 residents. Despite having some of the most relaxed gun laws in the country (New Hampshire does not require a permit or license to purchase or register a firearm), it is also considered one of the safest states in the U.S. West Virginia followed close behind, with over 3,200 background checks for handguns in 2016.

Montana had the most background checks for long guns (rifles, shotguns, and carbines), with over 3,200 background checks. In fact, more than 22 percent of Montana residents have some form of hunting license. In 2015, Montana became one of 35 states to pass legislation for the legality of rifle suppressors while hunting. Just behind Montana, South Dakota had the second highest number of long gun background checks, followed by Alaska, Wyoming, and North Dakota.

Finally, Alaska had the most background checks for purchasing multiple guns (Alaska was the only state to show up in all three categories of NICS checks that we looked at). Considering that Alaska has one the highest rates of gun ownership per capita in the U.S., its compliance with regulations for these background checks helps ensure that guns are distributed legally and with caution. West Virginia had the second highest rate of checks for multiple guns, followed by Oklahoma, Montana, and Colorado.

Denying Purchase of Firearms

When we looked at why applicants were denied purchase of firearms across the U.S., the most common reason was that the applicant had previously been convicted of a crime. Specifically, persons committing crimes punishable by more than one year in jail or prison, or misdemeanors punishable by more than two years are legally denied access to firearms. Since 1998, more than 730,000 people have been denied by the NICS for their criminal history. The next most common reason for federal denial was that the applicant was a fugitive of justice.

Since the NICS application was instituted, over 160,000 people with warrants out for their arrest have sought to purchase guns. Since dealers who submit a background check and have this information returned will deny sale, this means that at least 160,000 guns have been kept out of the hands of active criminals.

Other frequent reasons for denial included drug addiction, adjudicated mental health, and dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.

Federal vs. Private Gun Sales

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Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) are required to administer a background check before they sell a gun. However, FFLs aren’t the only way to purchase a weapon. Private sellers can also sell firearms and are largely comprised of online sales, gun shows, and person-to-person commerce. Today, it is unclear how many guns are purchased through licensed vendors and how many are not (though 40 percent is one of the most popular estimates).

While not all states require that guns sold through private vendors pass through a background check first, some do. Washington and Delaware had the highest number of privately conducted gun background checks for handguns, long guns, and other guns. In 2014, Washington became the first state to pass a law requiring that all private sales of firearms be processed through a federally licensed dealer who then initiates the background check.

Other states with a high number of background checks stemming from private sales include Rhode Island, New York, and Massachusetts.

Apply Before You Buy

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In the U.S., laws surrounding pawnshops are mostly regulated by the states in which they reside. Pawn shops that sell firearms, however, are federally regulated and must submit a NICS background check when selling a gun.

Pawnshops selling back a gun to the original owner must undergo the same background check. Because these shops would be responsible for returning the gun (or guns) back to their customers, pre-pawn checks ensure that they are not selling or returning weapons to unfit owners. Alaska and Mississippi had the highest rate of pre-pawn background checks per 100,000 people for handguns and long guns in the country.

For other types of guns, Montana, Wyoming, and Washington had the highest volume of pre-pawn checks.

State Comparison

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When we broke down the total number of firearm background checks (of any kind) by state between 2010 and 2015, Kentucky had the most, by far – over 50 checks for every 100,000 people. In general, Kentucky has fairly few restrictions where gun laws are concerned, so its implementation of background checks is an important part of keeping its community safe from firearms. Like Kentucky, Indiana also does not require a permit to purchase guns, registration of those guns, or the licensing of owners. However, it had the second highest percentage of background checks in the five-year span that we looked at. Illinois, Alabama, and Montana also ranked.

When it came to states with the fewest number of firearm background checks between 2010 and 2015, Washington, D.C., had a clear margin of reduced checks administered by the NICS – less than .10 for every 100,000 residents. Unfortunately, Washington, D.C., also has one of the highest saturations of guns per capita and one of the highest crime rates in the U.S.

Other states with noticeably reduced numbers of firearm background checks include the territory Puerto Rico, Hawaii, New Jersey, and New York. As a commonwealth of the United States, Puerto Rico adheres to federal regulations concerning background checks. In 2015, it joined six other U.S. states in removing a law requiring a permit to openly carry a firearm in public.

Staying Safe

Background checks are designed to ensure that guns are purchased by responsible, law-abiding citizens. They can be completed in a matter of moments and provide instant results in most cases. As we’ve seen, many states in the U.S. have already conducted thousands of these background checks through the NICS in 2016 – but as we’ve also seen, some states have not.

The unfortunate reality is that in nearly every state, there were more guns registered in 2016 than there were background checks performed. Because private sales of guns are not regulated in the same way that federal sales are, this means there may be gun owners in your state who have not submitted to a background check. Unfortunately, evidence indicates that when background checks are subverted (even legally, through private sale), terrible things can happen.

If you’re looking for an easy way to protect yourself, your home, and your family, visit GetSafe.com. We provide a smart, DIY home security system designed to protect what matters most to you. All the benefits of a 24/7 security system without the hassle of an inconvenient, long-term contract. GetSafe is also portable, meaning that if you move, you can take it with you. Visit GetSafe.com or call 1-888-799-6255 to learn more. Because protecting what matters most to you is what matters most to us.

Methodology

To purchase a weapon in the United States, you are required to undergo a background check.  The FBI runs the National Instant Criminal Background Check System which returns results in a matter of seconds. We analyzed the statistics for the year 2016 up until August, which is the most recent month for which data were available. We utilized the Census data from 2015 to calculate the figures per 100K residents.

Sources

Fair Use Statement:

Keep your readers informed and safe by sharing our content for noncommercial purposes only. Please give proper credit to our authors.

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