NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – During the COVID-19 pandemic, interest in legal gun purchases in New Mexico spiked. But new FBI background check data suggests that interest might have waned a bit.

While there’s no way to know exactly how many firearms are sold in New Mexico, a count of background checks can give a rough sense of how many people are interested in purchasing guns. In New Mexico, you need a background check to purchase a firearm, a rule that applied to firearms bought from retail stores, as well as from private sellers.

During the pandemic, New Mexico charted a high of 24,571 background checks for firearms submitted to the FBI in March of 2020. That’s 46% more checks than during March of 2019.

Now, that pandemic-related spike in background checks seems to have passed. The latest data from the FBI shows that only 18,396 checks were done in New Mexico in March of 2022.

That doesn’t mean more guns were necessarily sold in New Mexico. After all, someone could get a background check then decide they don’t actually want to buy a gun. And of course, someone could attempt to buy a gun from someone they know without a background check.

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New Mexico’s pandemic-related peak in firearms background checks may have passed. But the average number of background checks has increased over the last few decades. Data from FBI NICS.

A review of the last few decades of data shows that interest in gun purchases tends to be cyclical. That is, the number of monthly background checks tends to peak in spring and hit a low in summer.

But a few times since 2000, there have been booms in the number of background checks, such as during the pandemic. One peak in interest was at the end of 2008. After Barack Obama was elected president, news outlets and researchers discovered that Americans rushed to buy guns.

The data shows another spike at the end of 2012. That coincides with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But it’s not entirely clear whether or not the increase in background checks is directly connected to the school shooting.

Some researchers have shown that some increases in gun sales appear to be connected to mass shootings. A 2019 investigation published on the JAMA Network found that nearly 21% of the major mass shooting events from 1998 to 2016 were associated with an increase in gun sales.

Overall, the number of firearm background checks in New Mexico has been on the rise since the early 2000s, the FBI data shows. Two decades ago, roughly 5,000 to 10,000 background checks were done each month.

June of 2015 was the last time there were less than 10,000 checks in a month in New Mexico. Now, 10,000 to 20,000 checks per month is the norm. And that increasing trend isn’t just happening in New Mexico. Across the U.S., the total number of background checks has risen since the early 2000s.

That might mean that more people are interested in buying guns. Or it might mean that more people are going through the legally mandated checks, instead of purchasing guns illegally.