Share prices for major gun makers tumbled Wednesday after the FBI released December background check data.
The agency processed nearly 2.6 million applications through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System last month, representing an 8 percent decline over 2016 — the busiest on record since the FBI began keeping track in 1998.
The news sent Smith & Wesson holding company American Outdoor Brands stock into a downward spiral, closing 9 percent down Wednesday. Likewise, share prices for Sturm, Ruger and Co. fell over 7 percent and Vista Outdoor closed 6 percent down.
Background checks serve as a proxy measure for gun sales, however, the measurement isn’t perfect. Applications for concealed carry permits, periodic rechecks for maintaining licenses and a slew of smaller categories for pawns, redemptions, rentals and other rare situations undercut the total amount of checks processed in one month. Also, dealers submit one background check application per sale — not per gun purchased.
Dealers transferred more than 784,000 handguns and nearly 698,000 long guns in December, according to federal data. It was the busiest month all year long for both categories.
Comparatively speaking, however, last month’s estimated sales pale in comparison to 2015, when the San Bernardino shooting and the threat of congressional action on gun control pushed transfers over 2.1 million in a single month — including 1.2 million handguns and 873,000 long guns.
Still, 2017 ranks as the second busiest year in NICS history, tallying more than 25.2 million background checks — including the single highest volume day in the system’s history: Black Friday. The FBI processed more than 203,000 checks on the annual shopping holiday, besting the record set in 2016 by nearly 10 percent.
The week of Thanksgiving — Nov. 20 through Nov. 26 — also cracked the FBI’s top 10 busiest. Ranking at number eight with 676,464 applications, it’s the first week of 2017 to make the list. By comparison, the FBI’s busiest week to date — Dec. 17 through Dec. 23, 2012 — clocked 953,613 checks in just seven days.
Four of the busiest weeks fell within 2015 and two more each occurred in 2014 and 2016.