AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Gun owners' background checks nearing record in Georgia


Maybe it’s the fear of terrorism. Or the mass shootings that occur virtually every day in the United States. Or even the belief that Congress will defy the firearms lobby and pass more stringent gun-control laws.

Whatever the reason, Georgia is fast approaching a record for criminal-background checks for gun purchases and permits, new data from the FBI shows.

Through November, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, processed more than 470,000 requests that originated with Georgia gun dealers in 2015. If year-end background checks follow the same pattern as in recent years, the total this year could easily surpass the record of 527,885, set in 2013.

The FBI stresses that the number of background checks does not necessarily correlate to actual gun sales. And, of course, no checks are required in Georgia for private exchanges of firearms or for private sales at gun shows.

Regardless, the data suggests a surge in gun ownership in Georgia and elsewhere in the last half of 2015. For example, the number of background checks jumped by almost 12 percent from October to November, following a similar increase from September to October.

Throughout the year, slightly more than one-third of all background checks from Georgia related to concealed-carry permits, both newly issued ones and renewals. In the first 11 months of 2015, the FBI checked the backgrounds of more than 162,000 Georgia permit applicants – an increase of 82 percent from the first 11 months of 2010.

Permit-related checks seem to spike amid calls for gun-control laws. Georgia requested 27,940 of those checks in January 2013, almost twice as many as the previous month. At the time, President Barack Obama was seeking new firearms restrictions following a mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school.

Georgia ranks 11th so far this year in total background checks. However, some states routinely re-check the backgrounds of people with concealed-carry permits. Kentucky, for instance, requests those checks every month, giving it the nation’s highest total at 2.9 million.

The background checks began in late 1998, mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.

Over the years, Georgia has requested about 5.6 million background checks. Nationally, the FBI has performed more than 222 million checks since 1998. It has rejected just 1.3 million – about five of every 1,000. More than half the denials occurred because applicants had criminal records that precluded them from gun ownership. In more than 10 percent of denials, applicants were fugitives from justice – and not, apparently, criminal masterminds.

RELATED: Georgia criminal background checks, year by year.

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