Mass shootings, legislation often spur gun purchases

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After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, and then after subsequent national tragedies, gun control legislation has been a frequent public policy debate, which often triggers an increase in firearm purchases.

Last week, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he wanted Connecticut to ban the sale of guns to those on the federal government’s “no-fly” list and other terrorism watch lists.

The per capita rate of background checks before purchasing guns has more than doubled since the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System began in 1998 as part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993. More than 2.6 million background checks have been conducted in Connecticut since 1998, according to data from the FBI.

Certified sellers are required to check the backgrounds of all buyers to make sure the customer is not barred from purchasing a gun because of a criminal background or other criteria. It should be noted that sellers in some states are not required to check with FBI NICS, and in some states, subsequent purchases do not require additional checks. Many checks are for concealed-carry permits and not gun sales.

In January 2013, immediately after the Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama called for tighter gun control and expanded mental health care. That was also the month that Connecticut saw one of its biggest increases in gun purchases.

In April of 2013, in response to the Newtown tragedy, Connecticut passed sweeping gun-control legislation. As Connecticut legislators and the public debated what eventually became SB 1160, gun sales increased in March and April until the bipartisan bill passed.

Connecticut’s rate of background checks before purchasing firearms has exceeded the national average ever since Sandy Hook, except for a drop during the spring and summer months of 2014. It then picked up again for the few months before the re-election of Gov. Malloy. Since then, the rate has remained steady, though the fall months have seen a steady uptick in gun sales.

Check out our analysis or skip straight to our data.

Looking back to when the data on background checks started to be collected, Connecticut’s rate of gun purchases has generally been consistent with the national average.

There was not much of a reaction to the school shootings in Columbine, Colo., in April 1999, but there was after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

After President Obama was elected, Connecticut had a longer duration – about 10 months – of increased background checks compared to the rest of the country, before falling back into the national range.

But then one of the worst shooting tragedies in the country happened in Connecticut, and since then the state’s been on its own track when it comes to gun purchases.

Comparing other states

Connecticut is right in the middle when it comes to number of background checks per month per capita.

New Jersey and Hawaii have the least per resident while Kentucky, Montana, and West Virginia have the most.

What do you think?

  • Joseph Brzezinski

    Do the statistics break out subtotals by classes of guns? Specifically, are increased purchases largely designed for defensive use or more likely to be more of a military nature?

    • Andrew Ba Tran

      Good question and I’m looking at that for a follow-up story.