The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks gun sales and publishes a list of how many are handled as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System (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 300 million checks that have been done since 1998, there have only been 1.5 million denials. The data is, therefore, the best proxy for U.S. gun sales available.
Gun sales have soared in the past year. They have reached 35,758,249 through November. That is more than the 28,369,750 for all of last year. Growing civil unrest may have prompted people to buy guns for personal and family protection. Another theory is that chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is a major cause. A new UC Davis School of Medicine study about fear of violence reports that: “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated persistent structural, economic, and social inequities in the conditions that contribute to violence and its consequences.”
Gun violence deaths in the U.S. recently reached 40,000, which includes both homicides and suicides. This number is ahead of the figure for all of 2019.
Who is buying these guns? A New York Times analysis shows that buyers cut across almost all demographic groups. Gun ownership has continued to be a flashpoint across the country, as the debate about who should own a gun and what kind of guns should be lawful continues, as it has for decades.
The rise in gun sales from 2019 to 2020 is not an anomaly. The number of Gun sales has increased most years since 1999. At the current pace, 2020 sales will reach over 38 million. Sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011, and 10 million in 2006. The first full year the FBI kept data was 1999 when sales were 9,138,123.
The rate of gun sales is by no means uniform from state to state, nor is the growth level. Among all states, Illinois has posted the highest sales through November, by far, at 6,625,082. That is almost 19% of U.S. gun sales in 2020, although the state has less than 4% of the nation’s population. By a similar measure, sales in California this year are relatively low at 1,465,612, which is 4% of the national figure. Almost 12% of Americans live in California.
The FBI data do not show why sales in Illinois are so extraordinarily high. However, it has been at the top of the list of state sales month after month.
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