Firearm and ammunition sales are soaring amid panic surrounding the corona virus.
Gun stores across the nation are seeing record sales of firearms and ammunition as people rush to stock up on guns and ammo. Within the past few days, major online firearm and online ammunition retailers are already out of stock of their most popular items (yes, it’s legal to buy guns online). The same is true for retail gun shops where reports of long lines outside gun stores and packed gun shops are more and more common.
According to Mark Oliva of the NSSF, the FBI’s NICS staff said that Monday March 16th, 2020 had 3 times as many background checks as the same day last year and the traffic for the past 30 days has been double what it was for the same period last year.
Using federal background check data, we can see relative trends in firearms sales (raw background check data below). First, a quick primer on federal firearm background checks might be helpful.
If you’d rather skip ahead, you can jump straight to the firearm sales trends.
Firearm Sale Background Checks
Gun sales from licensed firearm dealers, also known as Federal Firearm Licensees (FFLs), typically require a federal firearm background check. This is true even if a firearm is purchased online. There are two main exceptions to the background check requirement for firearm purchases:
- 21 states have their own background check system that can be used instead of the federal system, and
- Some states have concealed carry licenses/permits that allow a purchaser to skip the background check for a firearm purchase because one was already done for their permit/license.
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Check System (NICS) is our federal firearm background check system used by FFLs. Therefore, a strong indicator of relative firearm sales for any given month is to see how many NICS checks have been processed.
The NICS number of background checks is not a direct indication of the number of firearms sold, however, for a few reasons:
- Some background checks find criminal issues that result in a cancelled/denied sale,
- Some firearm sales don’t have federal background checks (see above), and
- In rare circumstances, some states use the NICS system for permit renewals that aren’t tied to actual firearms sales.
Despite these potential inconsistencies in NICS numbers, the total number of background checks is still a reliable source for seeing trends in the industry. For a more accurate picture of which NICS checks might be related to actual firearm sales, the firearms industry’s trade association, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), adjusts the raw NICS background check data with their own research to try to paint a more accurate picture.
The most recent data for NICS Checks doesn’t yet include this month’s data – this means that the recent rush on firearm purchases will result in even higher numbers.
In both January and February of 2020, we are already seeing a 30% increase in NICS checks over the same months for the past three years.
If the 30% increase for firearm sales over the first two months in 2020 is applied to previous few years’ totals, it projects a MAJOR record in firearm sales. And this is before we know the official data for the big rush on gun sales in March or a potential rush prior to this year’s elections. It is reasonable to assume that 2020 may set firearm industry records with over 35,000,000 firearm background checks.
State Firearm Sales Trends
This surge in firearms sales is even more visible in data from individual states.
According to Susan Medina, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the number of background checks for gun sales has doubled since last year. Last week, the CBI processed 14,604 firearm background checks compared to only 7,357 for the same week in 2019.
NSSF data shows that Virginia processed over 65,000 background checks last month compared to only around 40,000 for the same month last year. That’s over a 60% increase in firearm purchases before this month’s surge.
Firearm and Ammunition Company Stock Values
The stock values for firearm and ammunition companies clearly show the recent instability in the market. However, they are also starting to climb as a potential early indication of optimism for the firearms industry.
Ruger, a major manufacturer of firearms including, bolt-action rifles, semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and revolvers, has seen a 15% stock value increase in the past week. AOBC, a company which includes Smith & Wesson, a major manufacturer of semi-auto rifles, semi-auto pistols, and revolvers, among other firearm accessory brands, has seen a stock value increase of 51% over the past week. And Vista Outdoor, a holding company of many outdoor brands including Federal Ammunition, one of the largest ammunition manufacturers in the country, has seen a stock value increase of 37%.
Most Popular Firearms and Ammunition
At Gun University, we have the unique opportunity to see the most popular firearms and ammunition researched (and, in some cases, purchased). Our information shows record levels of interest in tactical shotguns and semi-automatic rifles – specifically AK-47 style rifles.
This was surprising to us. According to the FFL community of RocketFFL, the most popular firearm sales for the past year have been semi-automatic handguns (specifically Sig’s p365 and p365xl and Glock’s 43x and 48 – all small pistols intended for concealed carry). However, the past week’s rush on firearms in gun stores has resulted in the same information we’re seeing here: a surprising increase in shotguns.
As far as ammunition goes, our reports are showing that 9mm Luger, 223 Remington, and 7.62x39mm ammunition are some of the most popular calibers. This is no surprise as these are typically the calibers most used and purchased in bulk. However, matching the sudden increase in shotguns is a big run on shotgun shells in stores across the country.
However, one of most popular topics we’ve seen with all of these new gun owners concerned about having a firearm for self defense is concealed carry insurance.
Here is a table of the raw NICS background check data by month by the FBI to help illustrate the trend in firearm sales over time.