(Reuters) – The FBI performed a record number of instant background checks on would-be firearm buyers in 2011 as Americans went on an apparent gun-buying spree, according to new government data.
The FBI said it fielded nearly 16.5 million queries from firearms sellers last year, checking that customers buying guns did not have criminal records or other red flags that made them ineligible to purchase weapons.
That was up 15 percent from 2010, when the FBI performed 14.4 million screenings using its so-called National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), and the highest number of annual screenings performed since 1998, when the checks went into effect.
The FBI cautioned that each background check did not necessarily represent an individual firearm sale, in part because some would-be buyers fail to pass the screening.
But FBI spokesman Stephen Fischer said the background checks are correlated with weapon purchases. So the uptick in screenings last year suggests that an increase in gun sales the agency has been tracking for several years was continuing.
Fischer declined to analyze or comment on the jump in firearms purchases, saying the bureau’s responsibility was only “to operate and maintain the NICS system.”