Special Report

Gun Sales Drop in December. Here Are the Numbers by State

Gun sales, estimated by background checks, plunged in December, down 21% from the same month in 2020 to 3,058,539, according to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. U.S. gun sales have steadily risen in the past two decades, capped by a 2020 surge blamed mostly on the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest. In the past several months, however, the rise in gun sales has tapered off. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks federal background checks and publishes a monthly list by state of how many are conducted on potential gun buyers. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies. Of the more than 400 million checks that have been done since November 1998, there have only been 4 million denials. Those who are excluded usually have criminal records. Therefore, the data is the best estimate for U.S. gun sales.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed firearm background checks in every state for December 2021 from the FBI’s NICS. Though background checks and sales are not equal, the data is widely used as the best available proxy for gun sales. (This is America’s most dangerous city.)

It is not clear why gun 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 reported in June: “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 cited as reasons for the sharp increase in 2020.

Despite the drop in gun sales in recent months, gun sales have increased most years since 1999. Annual sales first topped 10 million in 2006, 15 million in 2011, 20 million in 2013, and 25 million in 2016. In 1999, the first full year the FBI kept data, sales totaled 9,138,123. (This is the country where people own the most guns.)

The state with the most gun sales in December was Illinois, with 437,647. That is 14% of national sales that month, though the state has only 1.3% of the population. 

Here are total sales by state for December 2021