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December set a record for firearm background checks in the US—by an overwhelming amount

Guns were hot this holiday season. The Federal Bureau of Investigation processed 3,314,594 firearm background checks in December—a new record—positioning the month as the largest ever for gun sales in the US.

Federal background checks are strong indicators of US gun sales because federally licensed dealers are required to run checks on prospective buyers before every firearm sale. Still, there is no one-to-one correlation, because loopholes allow buyers to bypass these checks.

December is typically a healthy period for gun sales in the US, but last month was unprecedented. It was the first to eclipse 3 million since the FBI began tracking background checks in 1998.

The next biggest month for gun sales was in December 2012, when 2,783,765 gun checks were processed. It was the same month 26 people were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Last month, shooters killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Evidence is mounting to link rising background checks to mass shootings, as more Americans turn to firearms to protect themselves.

Americans were also buying weapons ahead of stricter gun control measures expected in 2016. On the first business day of the new year, Obama proposed an executive order that would require dealers at gun shows to be federally licensed—one way that buyers can acquire weapons without background checks—and would close other similar loopholes.

Overall, 2015 was huge for guns and gun makers. The FBI processed a record 23,141,970 background checks during the year—beating the prior 2013 record by about 10%.

Gun manufacturer Smith and Wesson’s shares were up around 6% yesterday (Jan. 4), the day the FBI released its numbers, while Sturm, Ruger & Co. was up about 3%.

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