Since 2007, the beginning of the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, and throughout the slow recovery and continued uncertainty, gun sales in Colorado have soared, based on the number of people receiving criminal-background checks.
The number of those checks, required for gun purchases, has climbed 58 percent during the last five years, with spikes this year immediately after the Aurora theater massacre and the abduction and slaying of 10-year-old Jessica Ridgeway.
Nationally, gun sales this post-election Black Friday broke all records, overwhelming the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s background-checking system.
Despite drops in violent crimes in past years, a volatile mix of political and social fears is driving more people to arm themselves, experts say. As the number of background-check applications continues to increase, social-science professionals and gun enthusiasts say the desire to be armed is a result of an overwhelming sense of danger people believe is around them.
According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation data, last year 245,475 firearm applications were approved out of the 251,307 submitted. The approval figure doesn’t provide the scope of gun sales, as a buyer can get multiple guns with a single background check, and the state doesn’t track gun purchases.
FBI data show that 16.4 million background checks were run nationwide in 2011. On Nov. 23, Black Friday, 154,873 would-be gun buyers inundated the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) with the most applications since the system’s inception in 1998, said Stephen Fischer Jr., spokesman for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division. The flood of applications was 20 percent higher than applications processed Black Friday 2011, Fischer said. Twice during the day, the system shut down – once for 18 minutes and again for 14 minutes.
There were 4,028 checks run in Colorado this last Black Friday, said Susan Medina, CBI spokeswoman. Through media coverage of high-profile violent crimes and crime-related TV shows and movies, people are bombarded with notions of imminent danger, said Hillary Potter, associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
'People need to feel they are protected,” said Potter, whose field of concentration is criminology. “They think: If the bad guys have guns, I better have one, too.
“The crime rate has actually dropped since the ’90s, but then something happens like Jessica Ridgeway or Aurora,” she said. “It feeds the fear.”