Special Report

This Is the State Where Gun Sales Are Surging

Portland Press Herald / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes a monthly list of how many federal background checks are conducted on potential gun-buyers as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies. Of the more than 400,540,500 checks that have been done since November 1998, there have only been 4 million denials. Those who are excluded usually have criminal records.   

The FBI data is the best available record of U.S. gun sales, even though private sales of firearms, including those at gun shows, are exempted from background checks in some states. (A 2015 survey conducted by the Joyce Foundation and the Fund for a Safer Future found that 50% of the respondents who had bought guns privately in the previous two years had not undergone checks.)

Since 1999, the first full year for which the FBI collected data, gun sales have risen annually. In 1999, 9,183,123 sales were recorded. Last year, the figure reached 39,695,315 — up from 28,369,750 in 2019. In addition, gun sales through the first eight months of 2021 totaled 27,841,219, compared to 26,756,487 in the same period last year. (These are the states where people are buying the most guns.) 

Recent growing civil unrest may have prompted people to buy guns for personal and family protection, many social scientists have posited, although this remains a matter of debate. Another theory is that chaos brought on by the pandemic was a major cause.

While people who already own guns have been buying more, there is a new group of buyers. “New preliminary data from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center,” according to the New York Times, “show that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time gun owners.” The study also revealed that half of those new gun owners were women, a fifth were Black, and a fifth were Hispanic.

NPR commented on another trend: “Most often, the first-timers are purchasing a semiautomatic handgun, outpacing the second-most-purchased firearm, shotguns, by 2 to 1, according to NSSF [National Shooting Sports Foundation].”

According to the FBI data, the state with the most gun sales through the first eight months of this year was Illinois at 7,134,095. The state has only 4% of the U.S. population but accounted for 26% of gun sales for the period. In second place, Kentucky had 2,395,658 sales over the same period. That’s more than 8% of the guns sold nationwide, even though the state has only 1.3% of the population. (See where Illinois and Kentucky rank among the most dangerous states in the nation.)

Click here to see the state where gun sales are surging

Here are the 50 states ranked by per capita gun sales through August, along with comparable figures for all of 2019 and 2020:

50. Hawaii
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 8.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 11,433 — the fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 20,102 — the fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 12,666 — the fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 58.7% — 15th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 3.9 for every 100,000 people — 2nd fewest

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49. New York
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 16.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 313,077 — 23rd most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 507,940 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 355,374 — 24th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 42.9% — 16th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 4.1 for every 100,000 people — 3rd fewest

48. New Jersey
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 18.8 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 167,241 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 177,901 — 13th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 91,257 — 11th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 94.9% — 4th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 4.1 for every 100,000 people — 4th fewest

47. California
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 25.5 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 1,007,251 — 6th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,601,054 — 6th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 1,240,632 — 5th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 29.1% — 7th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 7.5 for every 100,000 people — 7th fewest

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46. Rhode Island
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 26.0 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 27,587 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 51,369 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 24,338 — 2nd fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 111.1% — 2nd highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 4.2 for every 100,000 people — 5th fewest

45. Massachusetts
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 26.7 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 184,223 — 18th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 262,583 — 18th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 212,316 — 22nd fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 23.7% — 2nd lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 3.4 for every 100,000 people — the fewest

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44. Maryland
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 31.3 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 189,066 — 20th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 302,563 — 22nd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 148,813 — 15th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 103.3% — 3rd highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 12.5 for every 100,000 people — 24th fewest

43. Nebraska
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 32.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 62,329 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 104,511 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 68,236 — 7th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 53.2% — 21st highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 10.0 for every 100,000 people — 12th fewest

42. Nevada
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 43.4 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 133,544 — 13th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 219,349 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 128,312 — 14th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 70.9% — 6th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 15.7 for every 100,000 people — 15th most

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41. Texas
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 46.3 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 1,342,221 — 4th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 2,325,281 — 3rd most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 1,487,212 — 3rd most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 56.4% — 17th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 12.7 for every 100,000 people — 25th fewest

40. Delaware
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 49.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 47,883 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 77,057 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 46,427 — 4th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 66.0% — 10th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 9.2 for every 100,000 people — 10th fewest

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39. Ohio
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 50.3 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 588,140 — 13th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 976,751 — 12th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 638,495 — 11th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 53.0% — 22nd highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 13.5 for every 100,000 people — 20th most

38. Virginia
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 52.0 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 443,429 — 18th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 823,513 — 16th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 512,766 — 16th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 60.6% — 13th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 11.9 for every 100,000 people — 20th fewest

37. North Carolina
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 52.5 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 550,432 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 890,284 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 530,365 — 15th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 67.9% — 8th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 13.3 for every 100,000 people — 24th most

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36. Kansas
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 52.8 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 153,687 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 249,589 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 167,010 — 17th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 49.4% — 25th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 13.4 for every 100,000 people — 22nd most

35. Georgia
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 54.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 574,331 — 14th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 904,035 — 14th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 539,113 — 14th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 67.7% — 9th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 16.0 for every 100,000 people — 13th most

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34. Arizona
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 54.7 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 398,289 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 665,458 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 372,912 — 21st most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 78.4% — 5th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 15.6 for every 100,000 people — 16th most

33. Florida
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 55.0 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 1,180,925 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,912,204 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 1,195,539 — 6th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 59.9% — 14th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 13.4 for every 100,000 people — 23rd most

32. Connecticut
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 55.6 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 198,404 — 23rd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 219,227 — 15th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 172,935 — 18th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 26.8% — 3rd lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 5.1 for every 100,000 people — 6th fewest

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31. Vermont
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 56.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 34,990 — 3rd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 57,965 — 3rd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 35,843 — 3rd fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 61.7% — 12th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 9.5 for every 100,000 people — 11th fewest

30. Louisiana
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 57.4 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 267,015 — 25th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 430,537 — 25th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 282,264 — 25th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 52.5% — 23rd highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 21.5 for every 100,000 people — 6th most

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29. Iowa
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 60.9 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 192,252 — 21st fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 270,614 — 20th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 182,802 — 19th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 48.0% — 22nd lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 8.9 for every 100,000 people — 9th fewest

28. Maine
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 61.9 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 83,198 — 10th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 137,149 — 10th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 90,626 — 10th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 51.3% — 24th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 11.7 for every 100,000 people — 18th fewest

27. New Mexico
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 63.9 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 134,043 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 206,252 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 156,829 — 16th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 31.5% — 9th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 21.8 for every 100,000 people — 5th most

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26. Arkansas
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 64.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 193,661 — 22nd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 324,741 — 23rd fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 221,344 — 23rd fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 46.7% — 19th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 18.7 for every 100,000 people — 9th most

25. Washington
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 64.6 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 491,867 — 17th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 781,471 — 17th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 607,170 — 13th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 28.7% — 5th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 10.9 for every 100,000 people — 15th fewest

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24. South Carolina
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 65.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 335,589 — 22nd most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 530,930 — 22nd most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 328,221 — 25th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 61.8% — 11th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 19.4 for every 100,000 people — 8th most

23. Michigan
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 67.8 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 677,525 — 9th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,068,511 — 10th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 492,171 — 18th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 117.1% — the highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 12.0 for every 100,000 people — 22nd fewest

22. Oklahoma
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 70.0 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 277,119 — 25th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 470,286 — 25th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 360,043 — 22nd most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 30.6% — 8th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 18.2 for every 100,000 people — 12th most

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21. Missouri
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 70.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 430,098 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 708,184 — 19th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 497,858 — 17th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 42.2% — 15th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 20.2 for every 100,000 people — 7th most

20. North Dakota
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 70.8 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 53,930 — 5th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 85,465 — 5th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 60,389 — 5th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 41.5% — 14th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 11.7 for every 100,000 people — 17th fewest

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19. Mississippi
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 71.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 211,870 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 366,829 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 238,388 — 24th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 53.9% — 20th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 23.7 for every 100,000 people — the most

18. Oregon
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 73.3 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 309,043 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 516,096 — 23rd most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 357,700 — 23rd most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 44.3% — 17th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 13.2 for every 100,000 people — 25th most

17. Colorado
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 75.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 432,423 — 19th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 680,507 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 469,535 — 19th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 44.9% — 18th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 14.4 for every 100,000 people — 18th most

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16. Pennsylvania
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 75.5 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 966,950 — 7th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,452,921 — 7th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 987,886 — 7th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 47.1% — 20th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 11.9 for every 100,000 people — 21st fewest

15. New Hampshire
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 77.6 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 105,513 — 11th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 174,662 — 12th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 112,173 — 12th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 55.7% — 18th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 11.2 for every 100,000 people — 16th fewest

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14. South Dakota
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 80.4 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 71,157 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 115,448 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 85,426 — 9th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 35.1% — 12th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 12.3 for every 100,000 people — 23rd fewest

13. West Virginia
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 83.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 148,903 — 15th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 265,705 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 206,196 — 20th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 28.9% — 6th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 16.0 for every 100,000 people — 14th most

12. Alaska
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 84.9 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 62,133 — 7th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 98,952 — 7th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 76,923 — 8th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 28.6% — 4th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 23.0 for every 100,000 people — 2nd most

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11. Wisconsin
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 89.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 519,645 — 16th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 731,618 — 18th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 435,685 — 20th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 67.9% — 7th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 10.2 for every 100,000 people — 13th fewest

10. Tennessee
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 96.5 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 659,169 — 10th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 984,760 — 11th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 635,313 — 12th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 55.0% — 19th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 18.6 for every 100,000 people — 10th most

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9. Wyoming
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 98.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 56,778 — 6th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 91,384 — 6th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 61,291 — 6th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 49.1% — 23rd lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 22.5 for every 100,000 people — 3rd most

8. Montana
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 99.8 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 106,711 — 12th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 172,695 — 11th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 115,823 — 13th fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 49.1% — 24th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 18.3 for every 100,000 people — 11th most

7. Idaho
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 104.7 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 187,020 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 281,284 — 21st fewest
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 209,275 — 21st fewest
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 34.4% — 11th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 13.5 for every 100,000 people — 21st most

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6. Minnesota
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 114.3 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 644,447 — 12th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 958,391 — 13th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 682,356 — 10th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 40.5% — 13th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 8.2 for every 100,000 people — 8th fewest

5. Alabama
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 132.1 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 647,523 — 11th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,085,475 — 9th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 690,084 — 9th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 57.3% — 16th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 21.8 for every 100,000 people — 4th most

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4. Indiana
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 202.5 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 1,363,127 — 3rd most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,935,587 — 4th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 1,450,565 — 4th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 33.4% — 10th lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 14.1 for every 100,000 people — 19th most

3. Utah
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 258.8 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 829,624 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 1,216,773 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 823,270 — 8th most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 47.8% — 21st lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 11.9 for every 100,000 people — 19th fewest

2. Kentucky
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 528.2 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 2,359,658 — 2nd most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 3,330,462 — 2nd most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 4,120,892 — 2nd most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: -19.2% — the lowest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 14.9 for every 100,000 people — 17th most

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1. Illinois
> Firearm background checks per capita YTD, August 2021: 563.0 for every 1,000 people
> Firearm background checks YTD, August 2021: 7,134,045 — the most
> Firearm background checks in 2020: 7,455,065 — the most
> Firearm background checks in 2019: 4,949,570 — the most
> YoY change from 2019 to 2020: 50.6% — 25th highest
> Firearm deaths in 2019: 10.7 for every 100,000 people — 14th fewest

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