Annual gun sales have risen in most years since 1998, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation began firearm background checks. This year, at the current rate, sales will be close to 40 million, based on current trends. That will be up from the average of 25 million sales from 2014 to last year.
September firearm background checks will be released in a few days. So far this year, average monthly sales have been well over 3 million and have picked up sharply since the start of the pandemic. Through August, firearm background checks already reached 26 million. That is about the same level as for the entire years of 2017 and 2018. At the current monthly rate, 2020 sales will be close to 40 million.
Firearm background checks are considered an excellent proxy for gun sales. Since the program began, over 300 million people have been checked. Only 1.5 million have been turned down. The system requires that gun sellers contact the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The buyer then fills out a form known as the ATF Firearms Transaction Record (Form 4473) provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). If the buyer is cleared, the gun changes hands.
The 40 million figure for this year will be low when illegal gun sales are taken into account. There is no way to count how many guns are sold illegally, but the figure is high. According to Giffords, which tracks gun deaths, most guns used in crimes were procured illegally.
There is no conclusive research about why gun sales have risen this year. Most guess it is due to the pandemic, which has made some people feel unsafe. A portion of these are anxious about urban riots, according to NPR. Others are worried about programs that have released criminals from prisons early to keep them from getting sick as COVID-19 spreads in large facilities. Others believe that if food and staples run out then people may rob them. David Chipman, who works for Giffords and was once with the ATF, told NPR, “… on May 25, when George Floyd was murdered and then the lawful protests and the looting and rioting that followed as well, again saw an enormous spike in gun sales.”
Estimates are that Americans own between 300 million and 350 million guns. The figure has started to surge, to the point that another 40 million will be added this year.