Writing in Slate, Jack Shafer notes that a popular trend story in the media has “put the idea into circulation that the election and economic turmoil were spurring an increase in gun and ammo sales.” He says the foundation of the stories is solid: The primary measurement of gun purchases shows that sales are rising this year. The Washington Post reports there were 8.4 million background checks from Jan. 1 to Sept. 28, up 9 percent from the same period last year.
Shafer writes, “It sounds scary, but the 2008 year-to-date increase doesn’t tell the whole story. The first full year of the background check system was 1999, when 8.6 million background checks were conducted. For the next four years, background checks bubbled under 8 million annually and didn’t break above 8 million again until in 2004. In 2007, the number of applications was essentially the same as in 1999 (8,658,000 vs. 8,621,000), which means that there was no growth in the number of gun sales over almost a decade. Considered inside the context of a decade’s worth of background check data and a growing population, the 9 percent year-to-date increase doesn’t seem very significant.”