Has interest in guns increased in recent years?

Posted at 7:21 PM, Jan 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-06 19:21:39-05

How interested are Americans in guns? According to Google, fewer Americans are searching about guns, but that has not decreased the number of background checks used to purchase weapons or obtain permits in recent years.

Despite search interest on Google for guns declining in 2015, the year ended with a record 3.3 million people taking out a background check to purchase a firearm or obtaining a permit in December.

While the number of background checks in recent years has rapidly increased, the number of checks released by the FBI is an indicator of the trend in gun sales, as one background check could be used to purchase multiple weapons, or a check could be used for a person to obtain a concealed carry permit. Gun manufacturers use the results from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to monitor the strength of the industry. 

Since 2004, overall search traffic on the word “guns” has decreased. While the decline has been gradual according to Google, there have been two noticeable bumps.

In the weeks after President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, searches on the Internet for guns saw a huge increase. Coinciding with that spike, a record number of background checks were processed in November and December 2008. In the months leading up to the election, the average number of background checks processed in a month were below 1 million.

More than 3 million people filed for background checks in the final two months of 2008. Many gun stores were out of stock as some Americans were concerned that electing Obama could make purchasing firearms more challenging.

After the 2012 election, there was another surge in interest in guns took place on Google, especially in the week following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which killed 26 people, including 20 children. A similar spike in background checks took place in December 2012 as the FBI ran 2.78 million checks.

While there have been several historically large bumps following the presidential elections of Obama, December has been the most active month for background checks in 15 of the last 16 years. The lone exception was in 2008 when background checks in November of that year slightly outpaced December.

This is likely due to the holiday season, as people are purchasing weapons as gifts.

Search interest in guns also appears to correspond to political leanings. The states that search for guns the most tend to be red states, while the states that use Google to search for guns the least are mostly blue states.

The five states that use Google to search guns the most:

1) Wyoming
2) Alaska
3) Utah
4) West Virginia
5) Idaho

The five states that use Google to search guns the least:

1) New York
2) Oregon
3) Massachusetts
t4)  Hawaii
t4) Virginia

Gun sales had an all-time one day record on Black Friday in 2015, with the FBI processing more than 185,000 background check requests during the day, according to the Associated Press. 

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs.