Apparently firearms have become the stocking stuffers of choice for many Americans, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation reporting it received a record number of gun checks as crowds packed stores on Black Friday.
The FBI reportedly fielded 203,086 requests on the day after Thanksgiving, up from the previous single-day highs of 185,713 last year and 185,345 in 2015, both of which were set during shopping mayhem on Black Friday.
Customers flooded the Cabela’s Outpost store in Central Texas Marketplace when it opened at 5 a.m., and spokesman John Gilbert said he noticed that many made a beeline for the gun counter.
“We had some discounts on firearms, and much of what people were buying was hunting-related,” said Gilbert. “We’re in hunting season, so deer rifles were popular, as were shotguns. In fact, sales were strong across the board. It would be difficult to extrapolate beyond discounted prices for the season to say why sales were up, but they were.”
Some industry observers suggested the election of Donald Trump as president would dampen gun sales. Trump, a law-and-order candidate with the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, was viewed by gun-rights activists as less of a threat than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.
But the mass shooting last month in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of 59 concertgoers, as well as the massacre earlier this month of 25 people attending Sunday morning church services in Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio, may have shifted public sentiment, said Paul Froese, a sociology professor at Baylor University who joined colleague F. Carson Mencken in preparing a study titled “Gun Culture in Action.”
Froese said in a phone interview the report does not directly address the reasons for spikes or declines in gun sales. It discusses the emotional attachment some have with their firearms, and the belief by some that a “dark” state within the government must be kept in check by those who bear arms, even if they support the policies of Donald Trump.
Gun checks, required for purchases at federally licensed firearm dealers, are not necessarily an accurate measure of sales, according to a report in USA Today. The number of firearms sold Friday could be higher because multiple firearms can be included in one transaction by a single buyer.
“My personal opinion is that gun sales are increasing simply because the economy is starting to pick up, and people are treating themselves,” said Brian Shaw, general manager of Praco Gun & Pawn, 2201 W. Waco Drive, who added his staff Friday submitted between 50 and 60 requests to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
He said federally licensed establishments must request background checks on the purchase of any firearm except those used by black-powder enthusiasts. The process takes only minutes if everything goes smoothly. A transaction could be delayed or denied if a red flag is raised.
“The majority of those who visit our shop are recreational shooters, though some are buying for protection,” Shaw said. “The .380-caliber handgun is becoming very popular with those licensed to carry. It can be placed in a pocket or a purse. But we offer everything from handguns to long guns and everything in between. We do have AR-15 platforms.”
The surging numbers received by the FBI’s quick-check system comes days after Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of the system, which allowed a court-martialed Air Force veteran to buy the rifle used in the mass shooting at Sutherland Springs church, according to USA Today.
Last year, USA Today reported, the FBI official overseeing NICS was forced to transfer personnel from construction projects and the unit that tabulates crime statistics to help with background checks. The office processed a record 27.5 million checks in 2016.
Cabela’s on Friday not only saw a run on firearms sales, it included gun giveaways in its doorbuster promotion that began before dawn. It presented a Ruger LC9 pistol and a Browning BPS Hunter Pump-Action Shotgun to early risers. Its publicity release specified that winners had to complete and pass a standard background check to take possession.
Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, sells firearms but does not break out sales totals for any category in its reports to the media.