A shooting at Michigan State University this week left three students dead and five injured. The incident, only the latest in the nation’s seemingly endless stream of large-scale gun violence, prompted Michigan State Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks to indicate that the state legislature would be taking action soon to initiate stricter gun control. Among the policies Brinks suggested is stricter background checks. (These are the states with the loosest gun laws.)
This January, about 2.6 million firearm background checks were initiated in the United States, according to data compiled by the FBI, a slight increase from January 2022, when 2.5 million checks were conducted. Background checks are often used as a proxy for measuring gun sales in the U.S. However, there are a number of reasons background checks are initiated that are clearly not tied to the sale of a gun, such as pawn shop transactions and rentals.
To find the states where the most people bought guns last month, 24/7 Wall St. used FBI data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. We ranked states based on the number of gun checks in January 2023 per 1,000 people in each state. To get closer to an accurate approximation of gun sales, we excluded several categories of checks, including pawn shop transactions, returns, rentals, and rechecks, which are conducted periodically by some states on existing permit holders. After these adjustments, the remaining 1.6 million background checks are more likely to be tied to the sale of a gun in the 50 states, equal to about 5.0 checks per 1,000 residents.
Firearm background checks are a frequent key topic in the debate over gun control policy in the United States. Currently, the federal government only requires background checks before the sale of guns at federally licensed arms dealers, and not private gun shops. Many states have their own additional policies. As of last year, 17 states required a criminal background check for the sale of all firearms, and another four mandated checks only for the sale of handguns. (These are the countries Americans buy the most handguns from.)
Based on January’s background checks data, states in the South, the West, and the Midwest bought the most guns per capita last month. On the other end of the list, four of the five states with the fewest background checks per 1,000 residents were in the Northeast. Hawaii ranked lowest, with just 1,848 permit checks initiated, or 0.9 per 1,000 people.
Click here to see states where the most people bought guns last month.
Click here to see our detailed methodology.
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