Gun sales shattered records on Black Friday and that pace continued through the holiday shopping season as more than 1.5 million instant criminal background checks for firearms purchases were conducted in December, according to the FBI.

In the six days before Christmas, gun dealers submitted nearly half-a-million names for checks on criminal records and mental health issues, with 20 percent coming on Dec. 23, according to the AP. That was the second-busiest gun-buying day in history, topped only by firearm purchases on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

“The firearms industry is one that hasn’t suffered in this economy,” Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, told CNBC. “Everyone else is hurting, but not firearms.”

With another presidential election cycle under way, Pratt said 2012 could be a replay of the last election cycle. “I think the same dynamics that we saw in 2008 will come up again.” Pratt points to the fact that gun sales increased strongly after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, continuing throughout 2009 and into 2010. After a slight dip, sales have been picking up, notably with a record day on Black Friday, which saw the largest single day of FBI background checks.

Final tallies for all of December haven’t been released, but the month’s gun purchases will eclipse November. As of Dec. 28, 1,534,414 names had been sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, The New York Times reported in an editorial.

For the first 11 months of 2011, the FBI did a record 14.6 million checks, an increase of more than 70 percent from the 8.5 million in 2003.

Kentucky led the nation, with more than two-million background checks conducted through November; double the No. 2 gun-check state, Texas. The Bluegrass State, with a population of about 4.3 million, has been tops in background checks the past five years and has the most checks of any state since 1998 — more than 12.6 million.

For more, go to:

Total NCIS background checks by state Nov. 1998 to Nov. 2011 (pdf)

FBI’s state-by-state breakdown through November (pdf)

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Lock & Load

In Smith and Wesson We Trust (and it looks like Santa does, too)