Based on the FBI’s background check database, U.S. gun sales in March totaled 4.6 million, 25% more than in March of last year — which itself was up by 42.4% from March 2019. This was one of the largest totals for any month since the government began recording background checks in November 1998.
The year-over-year increase in March should not be taken as unusual, nor should the 40% rise in gun sales from 2019 to 2020 — from 28,369,750 to 39,695,315 — be viewed as an anomaly. The number of gun sales has grown most years since 1999, the first complete year of FBI records. Sales were 9,138,123 that year. They first topped 10 million in 2006, 15 million in 2011, 20 million in 2013, and 25 million in 2016.
Why have gun sales risen so much? According to CNN, it is not unusual for gun sales to spike when a Democrat wins the White House. The election and re-election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 were both followed by gun sale surges. In contrast, sales grew only slightly after George W. Bush won his second term in 2004, and actually decreased after the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
That doesn’t explain the spike of nearly 37% between February and March of this year, though. Firearms trade group the National Shooting Sports Foundation said it was likely in response to a series of mass shootings that took place across the country that month in places like Atlanta; Boulder, Colorado; and Essex, Maryland. (These are the most dangerous cities in America.)
Many Americans purchase firearms in the wake of events like these, perhaps because they fear losing access to them as anti-gun activists and some politicians renew their calls to impose new restrictions of the sale of such weapons.
Increases in gun sales have always varied substantially from state to state. In March, Illinois recorded the highest number, at 1,427,917, up from 902,020 the month before. That accounts for over 30% of March gun sales nationally, though the state has slightly less than 4% of the U.S. population.
On the other hand, sales in the state that recorded the second most gun sales in March, Kentucky, actually decreased from February, from 378,449 to just over 330,000. That still represents about 7% of the national total, however, for a state with only 1.3% of the U.S. population. These are the states where people are buying the most guns.
The FBI warns that a one-to-one correlation can’t be made between background checks and actual sales, due to varying state laws and selling scenarios. However, the data it publishes monthly through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS) is considered the best available means of estimating purchases. 24/7 Wall St. reviewed that data to determine how many guns were bought in every state between Mar. 1 and Mar. 31, 2021.
At the current pace, gun sales in America will reach over 49 million this year. It is too early to say whether the March trend will continue. However, it is nearly assured that 2021 will set another annual record.