Firearms sales in Tennessee have slowed, as the topic of gun rights and gun control has cooled somewhat in the national consciousness. But historically speaking, the gun business is still booming.
In the first two months of 2013, according to data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, gun sales were well above average. In January and February, 59,716 and 57,003 firearms transactions, respectively, were processed statewide through the TBI’s background check system. (In each month, more than 1,600 of those transactions were denied due to a failed background check.) Since an individual can purchase multiple firearms with a single background check, the total number of guns sold is almost certainly higher.
But those numbers represent a drop in sales over the previous month, amid the feverish rush to buy guns after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December. An unprecedented total of 82,937 transactions — 2,768 of which were initially denied due to a failed background check — were processed through the TBI system in December.
The early 2013 numbers still dwarf monthly averages from years past. Even with the inclusion of the aforementioned record-setting December — and notably high numbers in November, in which the TBI processed a total of 51,330 transactions — the bureau recorded an average of 38,512 transactions in 2012. The numbers for January and February 2013 are more than double, and in some cases triple, the monthly averages for every year prior to that going back to 1999. (A decade ago, for instance, in 2003, the TBI processed an average of just 16,838 transactions per month.)
Bill Bernstein, owner of Eastside Gun Shop in Inglewood, said things have “definitely slowed down” at his store. But it’s not necessarily demand that’s missing.
“Part of that is due to lack of product,” he said. “I’m getting calls for stuff; I just don’t have the product to satisfy people. You name it, and it’s in short supply. My distributors have absolutely nothing.”
The type of guns customers are seeking, Bernstein said, has shifted. Toward the end of last year, and into the beginning of January, he said, most calls came from customers looking for an AR-15 style gun — the type of gun used in several recent mass shootings, and one that would be banned under proposed federal gun control legislation — or something related to it. Now, he said, more customers are looking for concealable handguns, or ammunition.
Bernstein is skeptical about how many, if any, of the proposed gun control measures will actually passinto law.
“But people haven’t quite caught on to that, yet,” he said. “I’m still getting people asking, ‘Well, have they banned this yet?’ Nobody’s banned anything, unless you happen to live in New York.”
While the fate of federal gun control efforts is indeed still in question, anxiety about state-level regulations would be misplaced in Tennessee. In keeping with a record of consistently expanding gun rights, state lawmakers recently ended a multi-year battle by passing so-called guns-in-lots legislation pushed by the National Rifle Association, that allows carry-permit holders to keep handguns in their cars just about anywhere.
As of this writing, Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign it into law.