Minnesota is one of those states that carries a hunting-related gun culture. We are a state of outdoor enthusiasts who relish Deer Camp and sitting in duck blinds in the wee hours of the morning.
But 17 years of Minnesota gun data shows that culture may be changing – or, at least, other facets of firearm culture are catching up.
2016 was a record year for firearm-related background checks both nationally and in Minnesota. The FBI’s instant background checks system is used by federal firearms licensees in Minnesota when making a firearm or explosives sale, when someone applies for a permit to carry or purchase, and some less-common categories like redemptions.
Most people who go through the background check process are approved in a matter of minutes – nationally, rejections represent less than 1 percent of the total.
Some caveats we should address upfront: Background checks for firearms and permits do not represent gun sales.
For example, a customer could change his or her mind about purchasing a firearm between the background check completion and finalizing the sale.
Similarly, a person could go through a background check to obtain a permit to purchase, but then never return to buy a firearm (which would be yet another background check).
Additionally, many people acquire firearms through private sales, many of which do not require background checks.
Still, the FBI’s data is the closest proxy available for understanding general firearm trends.
Data on this has been collected since November 1998, but we opted to look at full years of data, starting in January 1999 and going through the end of 2016.
In Minnesota, breaking the data down to a monthly look shows a more interesting trend: pretty consistent seasonal spikes.
That seasonality makes a lot more sense when long gun background checks are separated out. In general, those numbers have been remarkably consistent.
Background checks for long guns – rifles and shotguns typically used for hunting game – see those reliable spikes at the same time every year, pacing right with major hunting seasons. September and October are big months as deer, pheasant, grouse and other game; March and April are spring turkey and goose seasons.
While long guns have been steady, however, handgun background checks have seen quite a bit of growth in that time -- a 379 percent increase comparing 1999 and 2016 totals.
If we plot them on the same graph, you can see how handgun background checks have caught up to long guns since 1999.
In Minnesota, a background check is performed if you apply for either a permit to purchase or a permit to carry. October 2016 was a record month in Minnesota for permit background checks.
James Franklin, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, said he heard speculation that the spike was due to a "quick, before the election" mentality because "no one knew who would win."
"But that's simply a rumor," he said. "I have no substantiation for any of that."
Although permit background checks came back down some in November and December last year, they were still above the previous high set in January 2013. Anecdotally, we've reported that some of those could increasingly be from minorities in reaction to election results.
As a share of the total, long guns used to make up 81 percent of background checks for a firearm. By 2016, they were just under half.
Data Drop is a weekly feature that uses data analysis and visualizations to explain, surprise, inform and entertain readers on topics relevant to Minnesotans. Do you have an idea you'd like us to explore? Contact MaryJo Webster