Since 2012, the number of federal background checks for gun purchases in Vermont has risen dramatically, a sign that gun sales throughout the state have sharply increased in the last decade.
From 2005 to 2011, the state had an average of 22,200 background checks run through the FBI system each year, according to the bureau’s NICS data. From 2012 on, that average has increased to 36,500 a year.
That rise parallels a national trend of rising gun background checks. Gun shop owners and researchers have said that in the wake of mass shootings, firearm sales typically spike due to anticipation of proposed restrictions.
In March 2018, weeks after lawmakers proposed a sweeping package of gun control legislation, Vermont saw a record-high number of background checks. That month the FBI completed 6,177 checks in the state, compared to 4,451 in March of 2017.
The legislation came after police said they thwarted a mass shooting in Fair Haven and was signed by the governor last April. It expanded background checks to private sales, raised the age to purchase a firearm to 21, banned bump stocks and limited magazine size for handguns and rifles.
Henry Parro, who owns Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury and estimated that the number of people walking into his store had quadrupled in April of 2018, said he thinks increased debate over gun restrictions has helped drive the trend in sales in the last decade.
Gun owners are “worried about what will happen with politics,” he said.
“We have people coming in buying identical firearms for their two sons. They’re buying them now even though the sons are 5 or 6 years old to make sure they can have them when they get old enough,” Parro said.
“People are sick of being told they can’t do certain things and I think that drives certain sales.”
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Tom Covey, who owns Black Ops Firearms in Plainfield, said that when President Barack Obama was in office and federal gun control proposals were consistently on the table, he saw sales in his shop go up.
He called the former president “the best advertisement for gun sales that we’ve ever had.”
“All the time that Obama was in office there was a record amount of checks done every month for eight years as far as anything I’ve ever seen,” Covey said
Although it is now a requirement for gun buyers in private sales to go through the federal background check system — which means going to a federally licensed firearms dealer who can conduct the check — the number of checks so far in 2019 has remained roughly level with 2018, making it unclear how many private sales are occurring in Vermont.
Covey and Parro said they haven’t seen a large increase in the number of people coming into their shop to request background checks.
Parro said that typically he’ll see a few customers come in to do so each week.
Sen. Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden, who pushed for Vermont’s gun control legislation in 2018 and plans to introduce more in 2020, acknowledged that the increase in sales comes, in part, from concern over firearms restrictions.
He said that Republicans have been “demagoguing” the issue, and trying to convince gun owners that Democrats are looking to take their weapons away.
But he added that he believes that some of the increase in background checks also comes from what he suspects was greater use of the federal background check system over the years.
As the U.S. saw an increase in mass shootings over the last decades, he thinks more people realized the importance of the background check system.
He believes the state likely saw more background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows and other sales outside of licensed gun shops, even though at the time, going through federal system wasn’t a requirement for private sales.
“Overall I think there was perhaps more strenuous observance of the background check requirements because of that awareness, and fewer people attempting to evade background checks,” Baruth said.
“I think that it would be a mistake to characterize the last eight years as having produced only panicked buying of guns.”
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