Gun sales in the U.S. have started to tapper off, at least temporarily. 2021 will probably not be the year that Americans buy the most guns. That breaks a pattern. Since the FBI started to keep its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in November 1998, gun sales have steadily risen.
So, despite what could be a drop this year, sales have increased most years since 1999. Annual sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011 and 10 million in 2006. In 1999, the first full year the FBI kept data, sales totaled 9,138,123.
In detail, the Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks gun sales and publishes a list of how many are handled as part of its NICS. Each month, the figures are reported by state. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies as a buyer. People who are excluded usually have criminal records. Of the more than 350 million checks that have been done since 1998, there have only been 2 million denials. Therefore, the data is the best proxy for U.S. gun sales available.
In terms of 2021, gun sales plunged in November, down 25% from the same month in 2020 to 2,217,458, according to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The annual U.S. total for the first 11 months of 2021 is flat with the same period last year at 35.7 million. Based on data for the past several months, after several years during which U.S. gun sales rose, capped by a 2020 surge blamed mostly on the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest, in 2021, the rise has tapered off.
And, gun sales did peak in 2020, based on an astonishing growth in background checks. The total hit 39,695,315, up 40% from 2019.
It is not clear why sales have started to fall. However, the reason for the surge last year into the first half of 2021 has been analyzed closely. According to The Guardian, about one in five new gun sales are to first-time buyers.
The composition of gun buyers also has changed. CNN reports: “In 2020, half of all gun buyers were women, researchers say. One-fifth were Hispanic, and one-fifth were Black, according to the Northeastern University & Harvard Injury Control Research Center.” The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social unrest also have been given as reasons.
And, it is not entirely clear why sales spiked in 2020. Social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic are often given as reasons, but there is no solid proof that either is the case.