Several events in the past three years have triggered distinct spikes in handgun purchases in Wisconsin and across the country, but now the rates of handgun purchases are beginning to drop in the state.
In January 2013, 22,214 handguns were registered in Wisconsin. This January, however, 7,702 handguns were registered, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. This 65 percent drop in sales has several potential contributing factors.
Jeff Nass, legislative affairs liaison for Wisconsin Firearm Owners, Ranges, Clubs and Educators, Inc., said the decline in gun purchases can be attributed to the concealed carry law, which was passed in 2012.
Nass said directly after the concealed carry law passed in Wisconsin, the number of handgun purchases spiked but then proceeded to decline as people acquired the guns they had previously wanted to buy.
“A lot of people went out and purchased handguns to use initially after the bill passed,” he said. “Concealed carry permits have dropped off also because that percentage of the population that does get a handgun permit are already in the system.”
In January 2013, there were 2.5 million background checks for weapon purchases, while in January 2014 there were 1.66 million nationally, according to CNN.
In the month following President Barack Obama’s reelection in November 2012, gun purchases spiked by about 25 percent nationally. The following month, when a gunman attacked Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., saw gun purchase rates increase by 40 percent, as people feared increased gun control from the federal government, CNN reported.
In Wisconsin, Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, cited a loophole in the system regarding gun background checks at gun shows as a possible reason for the decline. As a result, a person is able to buy a gun at a gun show without undergoing a background check or obtaining a permit, Risser said.
“There may be a decline in the gun shops, but I wonder about the gun shows,” Risser said. “There may be a decline in the reporting…I think people are doing their shopping at gun shows.”
Guns purchased at gun stores require permits and are reported to the state, but guns purchased at gun shows in Wisconsin are exempt from requiring a permit for a customer to purchase a gun.
Risser said he is currently in the process of drafting a bill that would require a background check for buying handguns at gun shows in Wisconsin. Only seven other states have a law in place that requires a background check to purchase a gun at gun shows, he said.
“Because there are no requirement for background checks in gun shows, there is no way of knowing how many [have] handguns,” Risser said.
According to USACarry, a concealed carry advocacy group, 44.4 percent of Wisconsin’s population owned guns as of 2007, compared to Wyoming at 69.7 percent. Wisconsin has the 12th highest rate of gun ownership in the country.