There is probably a place, somewhere in the country, where people are already camped out in front of a Cabela's, waiting for Friday at 6 a.m. so that they can go in and get a discount on a new firearm. Of the 10 days on which the FBI has conducted the most background checks since December 1998, two are the last two Black Fridays.
Guns make popular gifts. You may recall, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, flabbergasted coverage of people proudly displaying their new weapons on social media on Christmas morning. December 2012 was the all-time high month in terms of background checks conducted by the FBI — an imperfect metric for approximating total gun sales. December figures are usually high, thanks to holiday sales. November figures are usually lower, but among the highest of the year as the shopping season ramps up.
The sudden flood of background check requests on Black Friday is actually something of a problem for the government. In 2013, 186,000 people were allowed to buy weapons without a background check at all, according to the AP, after the FBI was unable to process their applications within the legal window of three days. The number of background check requests on Black Friday last year was over twice that of a normal day in 2013 — and 2013 was one of the busiest years in history for background checks, thanks to people making purchases as Congress debated new gun restrictions last spring.
Again, the number of background checks conducted is not a one-to-one representation of gun sales. Among the 10 days with the most background checks since 1998, two were this March. Background checks in North Carolina quintupled between February and January and doubled again in March, thanks to applications for concealed carry permits, not new weapons purchases.
Overall, background check applications are down slightly in 2014 from 2013. But there's one state that's worth looking at separately.
As the grand jury's decision in the case of the shooting of Michael Brown approached, there were numerous reports of gun sales spiking in anticipation of unrest, particularly to new gun buyers. Compared to the national average, background checks in Missouri were up — but they were up by about the same amount in Ohio.
There was a bump in August, the month of the shooting, and data for November isn't yet in. But September and October didn't appear to be very unusual.
We can expect to see an increase in November anyway, of course. The holidays are coming.