Handgun demand in Maine hit all-time high last year

Demand for handguns in Maine hit an all-time high last year, with more background checks requested in 2016 than any year in the nearly two decades prior.

Federal statistics logged 48,845 background check requests for handgun purchases in 2016, though the trend appears to be tapering off.

Handgun background check requests spiked sharply in December 2015, following mass terrorist shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, California. The trend carried through 2016, with each month posting growth for handgun background checks, until December 2016.

While background check figures don’t collect all sales activity and may reflect some background checks done without a gun purchase, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the best available measure of handgun demand.

The figures show December was the first month since March 2015 when year-over-year handgun permit requests dropped, though the monthly total remained far above the 10-year average for December.

Gun sellers large and small have linked the threat of gun control legislation — typically in response to mass shootings — to rising sales.

Mass shootings, in turn, prompt calls for stricter controls or warnings from gun rights advocates that stricter controls might be coming, which leads to more gun sales. Gov. Paul LePage, a staunch opponent of new gun regulations, said during a recent Richmond town hall that he’s one such customer.

The statistics show the November election may have cooled concern about the federal government or Maine government implementing stricter gun control laws.

Republican Donald Trump promised to protect the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms in his campaign and supported loosening concealed carry restrictions and eliminating certain “gun-free” zones at schools and on military bases. And a citizen initiative to require universal background checks in Maine failed in November.

That concern over the Maine referendum may have fueled more interest in handgun purchases than the nation as a whole. Background check requests for handguns in Maine were up about 15 percent in 2016, compared with a 10 percent increase nationally.

Darren Fishell

About Darren Fishell

Darren is a Portland-based reporter for the Bangor Daily News writing about the Maine economy and business. He's interested in putting economic data in context and finding the stories behind the numbers.