As expected, Virginia gun sales set a new high in 2013 with nearly 480,000 transactions statewide, breaking the record set a year earlier.
Gun transactions in Virginia totaled 479,253 for the year, a 10.8 percent increase over the previous record of 432,387 transactions in 2012, according to Virginia State Police figures of mandatory criminal-background checks of gun buyers released Thursday.
State police said 2013 represents the highest yearly volume of transactions since the inception of Virginia's background check program, which began Nov. 1, 1989.
Gun sales were brisk in the first four months of 2013, with month-over-month increases of 115.8 percent, 38.5 percent, 41 percent and 28.4 percent for January, February, March and April, respectively, police said.
Gun sales on Black Friday also set a record, but overall sales in November and December dipped from 2012 sales for those months.
"While 2013 was another record-setting year for gun transactions, the rate of growth slowed from previous years," noted Thomas R. Baker, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's L. Douglas Wilder School of Government Affairs who specializes in criminology theory and has an interest in gun-related issues.
Baker noted that Virginia saw a 16 percent increase in 2011 and a 34.6 percent increase in 2012, but only a 10.8 percent increase last year.
"In fact, for the first time in the past three years there was a decline in gun transactions in four months in 2013 from what we saw in 2012," Baker said. "This may be a signal that concerns over restrictions are beginning to wane or that those concerned about increased restrictions have made their purchases."
However, Baker had noted last year that another gun-buying frenzy could occur in Virginia if Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who favors increased gun restrictions, proposes any state-level gun legislation this year.
2010 2011 2012 2013 Change from 2012 to 2013
January 21,405 23,655 27,226 58,760 115.82%
February 24,804 31,004 39,624 54,896 38.54%
March 25,091 29,632 35,239 49,687 41.00%
April 21,904 25,110 29,402 37,765 28.44%
May 17,657 19,922 24,266 29,685 22.33%
June 16,144 18,640 24,762 28,122 13.57%
July 20,630 22,547 29,072 27,565 -5.18%
August 21,883 22,315 31,016 31,851 2.69%
September 21,686 24,640 32,524 32,219 -0.94%
October 25,048 28,275 33,893 35,148 3.70%
November 28,588 33,469 50,243 43,456 -13.51%
December 31,925 41,957 75,120 50,099 -33.31%
Totals 276,765 321,166 432,387 479,253 10.84%
"We could see another surge in sales similar to those in response to fears about national gun control legislation," Baker said.
Gun dealers and other observers have cited President Barack Obama's re-election in 2012 and the fears of increased gun restrictions after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut in December 2012 as the driving forces behind the leap in gun sales.
"My only comment would be that the gun industry and its mouthpiece organizations seem to be able to drum up fear endlessly even though, as time passes, none of the predictions on which they base their fear mongering come to pass," said Andrew Goddard, president of the Virginia Center for Public Safety and one of the state's leading gun control advocates.
"At what point will gun owners realize that they are being duped into artificially boosting gun sales for no valid reason?"
Goddard said there is no way of knowing what proportion of the guns are being purchased by first-time buyers, and therefore there is "no way of knowing who or where the guns are actually going to."
Goddard believes Virginia continues to have a "rampant" gun trafficking problem both within and outside the state, along with "a relaxation of laws that would curtail that." Consequently, "the increased sales could be boosting trafficking by providing a larger pool of 'legal' guns available for diversion to the illegal market," he said.
Goddard said the latest available Virginia gun death figures for 2012 show a slight increase in child deaths and accidents, despite a drop in homicides and suicides. "This is a predictable result from increasing the number of guns owned, which increases the frequency of contact between children and guns in the home," he said.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, one of the state's leading gun rights groups, had a much different take.
After Sandy Hook, Van Cleave said, gun owners saw the "anti-gunners" coming out in force and "going berserk, deciding that now they could pass every gun control measure in the world because they had the blood of dead children" to exploit.
"And indeed they did that, I mean they really pushed hard," Van Cleave said. "We saw all kinds of stuff going into the General Assembly during that time. And in the end, we beat every one of them back. None of them got out of committee."
Van Cleave noted that several states after Sandy Hook "rushed into passive massive gun control" measures -- and in the case of New York, "doing it in the middle of the night" -- to the dismay of some local governments and police.
"We saw California and Colorado reacting -- all of these reactions got gun owners' attention here in Virginia," he added. "Anytime you threaten to ban guns, to make more restrictions, all you're going to do is make sure there are far more guns out there than if you just kept your mouth shut. The other side hasn't learned this."
Exact sales of firearms in Virginia are neither reported nor recorded, but the background check records provide a rough estimate of the number of firearms sold.
There is not a one-to-one correlation between background checks and the number of guns sold because some customers buy multiple firearms. Also, about 1 percent of the background checks in Virginia typically result in people being denied permission to buy a weapon.
The background check figures also do not reflect activity between private parties, such as family members or collectors at gun shows, because federal and Virginia laws require background checks only for sales from commercial dealers with a federal firearms license.
Virginia gun dealer sales estimates, which are compiled separately and provide an even better accounting of the number and types of firearms sold in the state, are not yet available. ___