Special Report

American Gun Sales Collapse in 47 States

The debate about gun ownership, gun sales, and gun background checks has lasted for years, and will go on for years into the future. A large portion of Americans believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows them to freely own as many guns as they would like, and that they should be able to wear these guns in the open. As the Amendment reads, ”A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

Advocates for some level of regulation of gun buyer checks and gun ownership rules read the words differently. Some do not think that an Amendment that is over two centuries old should be applied to gun ownership in the 21st century. The firearms debates have been fueled recently by a large number of mass murders, some involving young children.

America has several distinctions with regard to the ownership and use of guns. There are almost 400 million guns in the U.S. – an average of 120.5 per 100 people – which is by far the most of any nation. By contrast, Canada’s figure is 34.7 per 100. Gun violence levels in the U.S. are equally staggering. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 45,041 gun deaths last year, slightly more than half of them suicides. 

According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System’s Firearm Checks data, there were 38,876,673 firearm background checks made last year in the United States. That was down slightly from 39,695,315 in 2021. Firearm background checks are often used as a proxy for trends in gun sales, although the FBI notes that they are not a one-to-one comparison, with estimates for 2021 gun sales being roughly half the background check estimates. 

The last two years’ background checks were well above those of any year since the FBI started to collect data. No one knows the reasons for this, exactly. However, there was a sharp rise in March 2020 at the very start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Worry about how the pandemic might affect violent crime in the U.S. was likely a cause for this increase. The period was also near the start of civil unrest across much of the country.

Background checks — and by most accounts, gun sales — have dropped very sharply in 2022 compared to 2021. There have been just over 18.2 million gun checks in the first seven months, down from 25.1 million in the same period last year. 

To determine the states with the greatest collapse in gun sales, 24/7 Wall St. listed all 47 states with a reported decline in firearm background checks from the first seven months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. States are ranked in order of the largest decline in background checks. Population figures came from the Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey and are five-year averages. 

Changes by state show why the national number has fallen so sharply. Sales appear to have dropped in 47 states. Some of these drops are dramatic. In Illinois, which once ranked among the states with the most gun background checks per year, the figure dropped 63% in the first seven months compared to the same months in 2021. There is no obvious reason why this has happened.

People who favor increased background checks and other approaches that could limit who owns guns and what kinds of guns people can own should be heartened by the new gun sales figures, However, it is worth the reminder that there have been over 26,000 gun violence deaths already this year. In nine states, total background checks have been below 50,000 for the first seven months of 2022. 

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