2012 has been a record setting year for gun sales. As of November, the FBI recorded 16,808,538 instant background checks for gun purchases for 2012.
Even without counting December, which has historically been the busiest month, this beats last year's record by more than 350,000.
If history is a guide, we can anticipate nearly 2 million additional gun checks to be added to the 2012 total when the December numbers come in, obliterating any previous total.
There are more than 129,817 federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States, according to the latest Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives numbers (as of Aug. 1).
Of those, 51,438 are retail gun stores, 7,356 are pawn shops and 61,562 are collectors, with the balance of the licenses belonging mostly to manufacturers and importers of firearms and destructive devices. For comparison, here are some numbers of other ubiquitous elements of American life:
• Gas Stations in the U.S. (2011): 143,839 (source TD LINX/Nielsen via National Associations of Convenience Stores, Association for Convenience for Convenience and Fuel Retailing)
• Grocery Stores in the U.S. (2011) 36,569 (source: Food Marketing Institute)
• McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. (2011): 14,098 (Source: McDonald's Corporation Annual Report 2011)
Yes, there are more stores selling guns than groceries.
But unlike burgers, gas and groceries, firearms are not a perishable or consumable product. They don't go away. A rifle used in the 2009 Holocaust Museum shooting was nearly 100 years old, but was still an effective murder weapon.
According to ATF reports, in 2010 there were 5,459,240 new firearms manufactured in the United States, nearly all (95 percent) for the U.S. market. An additional 3,252,404 firearms were imported to the United States. That's nearly 8.5 million new firearms on the street in one year.
Right now if you don't have a criminal record and you have not been adjudicated as mentally incompetent, you can buy guns. In 2011 the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 16,454,951 background checks for firearms purchases. Only a small number of these purchases (78,211 or 0.48 percent) were denied.
Since 1998 there have been more than 157,690,937 NICS checks. Each check doesn't necessarily represent a single gun, just a single transaction. Multiple guns can be purchased in a single transaction, with only one check performed and recorded.
Violent crime rates have been falling in recent years, but the number of people killed by firearms in the United States remains high. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, between 2006 and 2010 47,856 people were murdered in the U.S. with firearms, more than twice as many as were killed by all other means combined.