Gun sales have skyrocketed in the United States since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. As of the end of November, 35.4 million firearm background checks had been completed since the start of the year, more than in any other full year since state by state tracking began in 1998. Fewer than 28 million background checks were performed in all of 2019.
More background checks were done for gun purchases in the 11 months of 2020 than in any other year on record in 37 states. Background checks rose in 2020 compared to 2019 in every state except for Kentucky, which in 2019 had 4.2 million firearm background checks — by far the most at nearly 1 per resident.
Because of varying state laws, loopholes in gun sales online and at gun shows, as well as untraced illegal weapon purchases, total gun sales or the total number of guns owned in the United States is not known. However, it is possible to approximate the numbers of most gun purchases using background checks tracked by The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
U.S. gun manufacturers help meet massive demand for weapons. Gun manufacturing, tracked by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), is another proxy for gun sales, at the national level.
Approximately 7 million guns were manufactured in the U.S. in 2019, compared to 9 million in 2018, 8.3 million in 2017, and 11.5 million in 2016 — the year with by far the most guns manufactured since tracking started in 1986. Rifles dominate gun production, closely followed by 9 mm pistols.
To determine how many guns are purchased in every state, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed firearm registrations in every state between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2020 from The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
The background check data is widely used as the best available proxy for gun sales, but checks and sales are not equal. According to the NICS: “These statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold. Based on varying state laws and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale.”
We compiled data from state and local health departments and calculated cumulative and per 100,000 COVID-19 cases for every state as of Dec. 8.