Nearly 370,000 criminal background checks were requested by Oklahoma gun store owners in 2012, the highest total in state history.
According to records kept by the FBI, the 367,976 background checks requested by store owners last year topped the previous record — set in 2011 — by nearly 100,000.
Gun shop owners say background check statistics don't necessarily reflect actual sales as much as they gauge public interest in purchasing a firearm.
“Some people have their application rejected or may change their mind or whatever, but those numbers show you how many people are at least considering buying a gun,” said Darren Burger, co-owner of Choctaw gun store Locked and Loaded.
Until their numbers exploded in 2012, background checks performed on potential Oklahoma gun buyers had experienced slow, steady growth since they began in 1998, records indicate.
Last year's figures grew so much they nearly doubled the number of checks performed just five years earlier, in 2007.
Background check statistics in Oklahoma mirrored the national trend, FBI records show.
In 2012, the federal agency conducted 19,592,303 criminal background checks on potential gun buyers, the most ever. The previous record, when 16,454,951 checks were performed, came in 2011.
On the national level, the number of criminal background checks performed on potential gun buyers grew by roughly 230 percent between 2002 and 2012.
Explanations are unknown
The numbers don't appear to be misleading here in Oklahoma.
Gun stores in the metro area have shelves that are conspicuously bare. Ask for an AR-15 rifle — which has become a top seller in recent weeks — and you may get laughed at.
In late December, just weeks after a mentally unstable young man shot and killed 20 first-graders and several adults in a Connecticut elementary school, the owner of H&H Shooting Sports Complex discussed the spike in gun sales with The Oklahoman.