Gun Sales Hit All-Time High in January, Following Record Buying Spree in 2020

February 26, 2021 Updated: February 26, 2021

American gun buyers have shattered the record for monthly firearm sales, with FBI data showing a whopping 4.14 million background checks in January 2020, which serves as a proxy for purchases.

According to recent figures from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), gun sales in January surged by around 9.5 percent month-over-month and a whopping 60 percent compared to January 2019.

But while the gun sales trend has seen a steady rise since 2005, when nearly 9 million checks were done, the past year saw extraordinary activity, with almost 40 percent more checks compared to 2019.

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Chart showing firearms background checks in the U.S., 1999–2020. (Data: FBI; Chart: Tom Ozimek/Epoch Times)

The surge in gun sales in 2020 was the biggest yearly spike in both absolute figures and year-over-year percent change, since the NICS system started tracking in 1998. Last year’s surge eclipsed the second biggest year-over-year rise of 19 percent in 2016, another election year.

While gun sales tend to spike in election years, experts say new trends were visible in 2020, a year marked by pandemic anxiety, social unrest, and political uncertainty.

Mark Hanish, Ammo’s president of global sales and marketing, told the Financial Times in an interview ahead of the November election that part of the surge in gun sales was among people who previously didn’t own firearms, because of a combination of the pandemic, the election, and concern about “civil unrest and uncertainty.”

“In past [election] run-ups, your traditional folks who were already gun owners would purchase more. This is brand new people,” he told the publication.

First-Time Buyers

According to a 2020 survey conducted by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) trade association, more than 40 percent of the guns sold from January through April 2020 were purchased by first-time buyers. The survey also found that 40 percent of these first-time purchasers were women.

NSSF Senior Vice President of General Counsel Lawrence Keane called the surge a “tectonic shift” in the industry marketplace and a “complete transformation of today’s gun-owning community.”

“These first-time buyers represent a group of people who, until now, were agnostic regarding firearm ownership,” Keane said in a media release. “That’s rapidly changing, and these Americans are taking hold of their God-given right to keep and bear arms and protect themselves and their loved ones.”

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Edward Wilks, owner of Tradesmen Gun Store and Pawnshop, helps Lauren Boebert with a firearm at his store in Rifle, Colo., on April 24, 2018. (Emily Kask/AFP/Getty Images)

Gun Control

President Joe Biden has called for a number of stricter gun control measures, including prohibiting online gun sales and incentivizing states to introduce “red flag” laws and gun-licensing regimes.

On Feb. 15, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that gun control is a “priority” for Biden, who is “not afraid of standing up” to the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s largest gun rights group.

Psaki made the comments when asked about potential new gun legislation under the new administration.

“We haven’t proposed a package at this point, so it’s hard for me to make a prediction about the likelihood of passing,” Psaki said.

Since it was begun in 1998, the NICS system has processed more than 300 million checks, including over 1.5 million denials.

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