January 2021 – Update: There were 3,937,066 federal background checks conducted in December 2020… that’s the most background checks ever conducted in a month!
It should be no surprise that 2020 was a record year for gun sales. There were over 39 million federal background checks in 2020 which clearly surpasses the previous annual record of over 28 million.
Gun Sales Statistics
In this article, we’re going to explore:
- 2020 as a record year for firearm sales
- Firearm Sale Background Checks
- Number of Firearms Manufactured in the U.S.
- Most Popular Firearms and Ammunition
- NICS Background Check Data by Month
To put some stats into perspective, the firearms industry is fairly cyclical seeing most firearm sales at the start of hunting season in the Fall and just before Christmas. Predictably, firearm sales also spike before elections in which there’s a larger than normal chance of major gun control (see Biden’s Gun Control Plan). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the most recent (pre-2020) record was from December 2016 – more guns were sold that month than any other month in recorded history.
That is, of course, until 2020 came.
To explain how “off-the-charts” 2020 was, March of 2020 (typically a very slow month of the year for firearm sales and typically too early to have an election bump) eclipsed December 2016 and set a new monthly firearm sales record of 2.3 million. The extreme increase was likely due to Antifa and Black Lives Matter violent riots across the country and the defunding of police in democrat run cities.
The previous record year of 2019 saw 28 million federal background checks (see below for how these relate to actual firearms sales). 2020 came in with 39.6 million! This is even more exceptional when you consider that most gun stores have been out of inventory for months – imagine how much higher the number could have been with more inventory.
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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.
Firearms Manufactured in the U.S.
The ATF publishes these numbers of firearms manufactured each year with a 2-year delay so as not to revel current competitive/commercial data. Despite the delay, it is still valuable to see gun manufacturing trends in our country.
Here is a chart showing how many of each type of firearm are manufactured in the U.S. each year (Data from ATF) followed by a chart showing the total number of guns made and a table of the raw data:
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).
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, this year’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.
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 chart and a table of the raw NICS background check data by month by the FBI to help illustrate the trend in firearm sales over time.
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