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More than 200,000 Americans tried to buy a gun on Black Friday

More than 200,000 Americans sought to buy a gun the day after Thanksgiving this year, based on federal background check data.

The Black Friday rush on firearms dwarfed the equivalent figures for 2008, 2009, and 2010 and far exceeded even the relatively elevated level of gun sales recorded through the background check data, Bloomberg reported.

There were more than 203,000 separate pings of the background check database on the retail industry’s most important day of the year. It was the third straight year in which Black Friday gun sales — for which background check numbers are only an inexact proxy — topped a high set in December 2012 when gun enthusiasts rushed to the cash register following the Sandy Hook massacre of school children.

The background check figures do not mean that all 203,000 people who sought to buy a gun at a store on Friday and succeeded are in fact qualified, under existing restrictions on sales, to own firearms. For all the nefarious depictions of the background check system from right-wing media figures over the years, the system is more notorious for failing to prevent men like the Virginia Tech, Charleston bible study, and Sutherland Springs church killers from legally purchasing guns.

Some retailers gave handguns and shotguns as part of their “doorbuster” inducements to people who camped out for a spot at the front of the line, Bloomberg noted.

Traditionally, sales patterns in the gun industry correspond to the national news. A mass shooting usually sparks a rush on gun retailers. When political power swings to the right, sales often slacken — a correlation broadly viewed as evidence that gun owners and their would-be peers regard purchases as urgent when politicians favoring gun control policies are ascendant.

The industry has floundered since President Donald Trump’s election. Even after nearly 600 people were shot in Las Vegas last month, Bloomberg noted, ensuing discussion of new regulations for firearms “failed to light the usual fire under gun enthusiasts fearful of new regulations, or of being unarmed in future shootings.”

If the traditional pattern of surging gun purchases after appalling mass killings is faltering in 2017, it may be because the linked political pattern of serious discussion of gun control changes after such events has also changed.

After the Las Vegas mass killings, the only policy change to get any traction at all was a prohibition on the “bump stock” gun modification that can effectively render a semi-automatic rifle capable of an exponentially higher fire rate. That’s a more modest proposal than gun control proponents have typically mustered following high-profile shootings — and even the bump-stock rules moment faded from headlines within days.

The weak environment for gun sales in 2017 may help to explain why the National Rifle Association (NRA) — a trade group for gun makers and retailers — has accelerated its political propaganda efforts this year.

The group has repeatedly published slick videos hinting at a coming civil conflict, insinuating through spokeswoman Dana Loesch that a loosely-defined “they” are trying to steal the nation’s soul. The opposition the videos hope to frighten viewers with is a mix of black protesters opposed to police violence, and left political protesters opposed to Trump.

Such overt fearmongering is not new for the NRA, though the sense of desperation under the surface of the videos is unusual. In the past, the news typically did the fright-work for them. The NRA’s decision to spend money pumping up the sense of conflict already alive in the country prior to the 2016 election may reflect the relatively weak sales its industry constituents have seen this year.

The kind of hardline enthusiasts who are often the most prominent avatars of the broader landscape of firearms owners have, in several cases, embraced the idea of a looming war with lefties or black activists. A mix of thickheaded conspiracy mongering from the right and capricious trolling from the left convinced major news organizations that the radical left street organization Antifa was planning a violent uprising in early November. It wasn’t, but the tongue-in-cheek threat of “Antifa Supersoldiers” still inspired a crop of YouTube diaries and social media posts from right-wing gun owners.

But until Black Friday, the us-versus-them ethos of Trumpism, the deadly violence at a white supremacist rally in Virginia this summer, and the record-breaking death tolls of recent mass shootings had not goosed gun industry revenues in the traditional way.

The only sales line to see a boost from the traditional pattern of regulatory panic this year was bump stocks themselves. Multiple retailers reported selling out of the modification kits within days of the Vegas killings.

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