Federal background checks for firearm sales and concealed carry permits increased in Ohio last month, which came after a gunman in the Oregon District went one of the worst mass shooting sprees in state history.
Research suggests that firearm sales spiked after mass shootings in Sandy Hook Elementary, San Bernardino and Pulse nightclub in Orlando, with buyers possibly motivated by fear of new gun regulations or concerns about personal safety.
Firearms background checks in the state increased by 30% in August compared to July and increased year-over-year for the first time since March 2018, according to FBI data.
But the FBI data does not make it clear whether the deadly rampages in Dayton and El Paso, Texas, and the political debates they sparked, had any significant affect on gun purchases, gun ownership or gun permits in Ohio, according to some academics and gun sellers.
“It’s a very imperfect measure, if you were trying to say this was a response to the shooting in Dayton,” said Grant Neeley, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “It’s really tough to say, because the numbers are relatively stable.”
July had the lowest number of firearm background checks in the state in five years, and a rebound was expected by some gun sellers.
“By no means would I call this a spike or even a bump in sales,” said Evan English, president Olde English Outfitters, a shooting and hunting retailer in Tipp City. “I would say we’re seeing some increases that are long overdue, and it is right on the leading edge of hunting season.”
In August, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System received 50,963 background checks that originated in Ohio. The vast majority of U.S. states saw an increase in firearm background checks last month.
Background checks in the state were up by 11,757 from July and increased for the first time since March, the FBI data show.
Checks were up slightly from August 2018 (+1.3%), which represented the first year-over-year increase in 16 months.
But the number of checks was not especially out of the ordinary, statistics show.
There were more in March (70,826), February (57,18) and April (53,819). There were more checks in the month of August in past years, including 2017, 2016 and 2015.
Additionally, firearm background checks in the state have fallen between April and July in each of the last three years, only to rise again in August, the data show.
But, notably, background checks in July fell to 39,206 in the state, which was the lowest level since July 2014.
The Dayton shooter’s rampage on Aug. 4 killed nine people and wounded 17 others with gunfire. It came less than 24 hours after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, left 22 people dead.
Mass shootings that receive extensive media coverage have been associated with increases in handgun purchases, according to research in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Nationally, three of the top 10 busiest days for federal firearm background checks were in late December 2012, which came after a gunman’s killing of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, including 20 young children, FBI data show.
December 2012 was the second busiest month for background checks in Ohio, after December 2015, FBI data show.
Following mass shootings, some people may be motivated to buy guns or obtain concealed carry permits out of safety concerns, while others may want to stock up on firearms out of fear that lawmakers will pass new gun control laws, according to some researchers and observers.
But overall gun sales have been down nationwide for the last two years, and the late spring and summer months tend to have slow sales, said English.
Sales tend to start picking back up in August, as hunting season approaches, and last month saw a minimal increase in background checks, English said.
“We didn’t see any panic buying or serious uptick in sales,” he said. “We did see modest increase in August for the first time in a while, but things have been really down for this industry.”
English did say that more people participated in CCW classes last month, but the classes aren’t very large.
Demand for guns could change any time, because Congress just returned to session and if there is serious discussions among lawmakers about new restrictions on firearms, that could lead to an uptick in sales, English said.
It’s no different than the proposed restrictions on e-cigarettes, English said, because undoubtedly people who vape will want to stock up on the products they like before they become unavailable.
It’s important to remember that the background FBI check data is not an indicator of actual gun acquisitions, said Neeley, with UD.
Some potential buyers who go through the background check process might not buy a firearm.
Concealed carry permits also require federal background checks, and the numbers reflect some those checks, instead of potential sales, Neeley said.
Out of the 50,963 background checks last month in Ohio, about 22,222 were for handguns, 12,658 were for long guns, 2,907 were for other or multiple guns and about 11,120 were for permits, according to FBI data. Background checks for handguns and long guns increased for the first time since March.
Also, many gun purchases are via private sales that take place online or at gun shows, meaning no background check was required and the transactions are not captured in the data, Neeley said.
“It’s the only measure we really have, but it’s an imperfect measure if we want to talk about gun ownership or gun acquisition,” he said.
There’s no way to know for sure if private gun sales are going up, going down or staying flat, and that’s a sizable part of the market, Neeley said.
A 2017 study by researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that about 22 percent of gun owners surveyed said they obtained a firearm without a background check.
The FBI data also do not indicate whether the background checks are for people who are buying a gun for the first time or whether they already own guns but are buying additional firearms, Neeley said.
“It’s not really a valid indicator if we’re trying to measure the number of guns in a population,” he said.
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