“2012 was a year of unparalleled growth and success for the firearms industry and its law-abiding customers,” said Stephen Sanetti, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, headquartered in Newtown.
Sanetti said that more than 73 percent of retailers surveyed by the gun manufacturers’ trade group had increased sales over the previous year, and that first-time buyers have increased to more than 25 percent of all customers.
“By late in 2012, retail firearm background checks had experienced 20 consecutive months of growth,” Sanetti said, indicating that gun stores were selling more weapons.
In December, the number of FBI background checks on prospective gun buyers increased in every state over November and over December 2011. In Virginia, checks jumped from 52,416 in November to 77,487 in December; in Maryland, from 17,048 to 19,172.
Nationally, there were 2,783,765 background checks last month, an increase of 38 percent over November, according to FBI statistics. That is the single highest month since 1998, the year the FBI launched the program as a requirement of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. On Dec. 21, the FBI processed 177,170 background checks, a single-day record.
These figures provide only a partial window into gun sales because they do not represent the number of firearms sold. A single background check can cover the purchase of multiple weapons, and private sales and transactions at gun shows do not require a background check. There is no federal data on total gun purchases in the United States.
At the Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Va., the effects of the debate are visible. “My shelves are bare,” said store manager Donel Dover, who said he has run out of some kinds of semiautomatic weapons, and that the supply of .223-caliber and 5.56mm ammunition has dried up. “Some distributors have told us it will be six or seven months before they fill orders and that’s only going to get worse.”