Criminal background checks, required before guns can be purchased, rose to a record 16.4 million last year -- up by more than 2 million over 2010.
The FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System compiles the numbers and although they do not equate directly with gun sales, they are an indicator.
Kentucky, Texas and Utah had the most background checks -- over 1 million each. The District of Columbia had the least in the United States -- just 300.
Gun store owners noticed a surge of gun sales during the holidays.
"I couldn't explain why that trend is, but I've seen it for the past four years," said Jimmy Harris, an assistant manager at Wild Bill's Pawn Shop in Abilene, Texas. "We're seeing a lot more people getting concealed handgun licenses, and we're seeing small, compact weapons."
Traditionally, Glocks and Taurus brands sell well, he said. Weapons geared to women -- in pink or purple -- are big sellers, too, Harris said.
The store sells guns for as little as $300.
The number of background checks has been rising since 2002 with particular spikes in some years, including 2011.
(Contact Denise Balz of The Abilene Reporter-News in Texas at blazD@reporternews.com