Gun Sales Up Amid Protests, Riots

June 8, 2020 Updated: June 8, 2020

Gun sales soared by 80 percent in May compared to last year, according to a new estimate.

Firearm sales reached 1.7 million, according to the Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF) group, which examines raw data from the FBI’s criminal background check system.

The volume of checks processed through the system topped 3 million, just the second time in history that’s happened.

The number of checks, though, needs to be adjusted to exclude ones that are unrelated to end-user firearm sales, SAAF said. The group’s adjusted estimate of sales was 1,726,053, including over 1 million likely handgun sales and over 535,000 likely long-gun sales.

“Yet again, firearms sales have surged in unprecedented ways,” Jurgen Brauer, SAAF’s chief economist, said in a statement.

Nearly two handguns were sold for every long-gun, he added, which is unusual.

“Traditionally, the ratio increases in the first half of the year before dropping off in the second half. Still, the boom in handgun sales has been particularly noticeable in recent months,” Brauer said.

Protesters and activists walk across the Brooklyn Bridge
Protesters and activists walk across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City on June 6, 2020. (Craig Ruttle/AP Photo)

While protests and riots over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota started in late May, the raw numbers don’t appear to support the theory that unrest contributed to higher than normal gun sales, SAAF officials said. A spike starting in March is “undoubtedly due to the global and national COVID-19 crisis,” Brauer said.

Background checks jumped to 3.7 million in March, when the COVID-19 pandemic was declared. That figure dropped to 2.9 million in April before increasing to nearly 3.1 million in May.

The 15.2 million checks conducted so far this year indicate another record-setting year after 2019’s 28.3 million checks.

Researchers with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade association, found millions of people bought their first firearm during the pandemic.

Retailers responding to a foundation survey estimated that 40 percent of sales in the first quarter of 2020 were to first-time buyers, an increase of the annual average of 24 percent.

Semiautomatic handguns were the most popular gun for first-time buyers, followed by shotguns and modern sporting rifles.

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