The FBI began to track gun background checks in the late 1990s and report the statistics every month. While gun background checks are not a one-to-one comparison of gun sales, they serve as a proxy, especially in identifying trends in gun sales.
Gun sales have risen sharply for over more than a decade, ever since background checks surpassed 10 million for the first time in 2006. Sales exploded early in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, reaching an all-time high of 39,695,315 that year. Concern about how the pandemic might affect violent crime in the U.S. was likely, at least partly, the cause. Civil unrest across much of the country that summer has likely added to concerns.
In the second half of 2021, gun sales began to fall from 2020 levels, but only by a modest amount, to 38,876,673. In 2022, the sales drop was much more dramatic. So far, through the first eight months of 2022, gun background checks by the FBI have hit 20,790,489, down sharply from 27,841,119 in the same period last year. There is not ready explanation for the slowing,
The FBI figures do not compare the U.S. to the rest of the world. They also don’t reveal what guns have done to American society. In the U.S., there are about 400 million guns in circulation, according to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research project. That means for every 100 people in America, there are about 120 guns, the world’s highest such figure. The comparable number in Finland, for example, is 32 guns per 100 people. (These are the world’s largest gun makers.)
The level of deaths from guns has similarly been increasing in recent years. So far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, 30,623 people have been killed by guns in the U.S. There have been 470 mass shootings in 2022. (These are states where the most murders are committed with a gun.)
Meanwhile, the debate over gun regulations has been so polarized that solutions have been few and hard to come by.
Gun sales vary considerably from state to state and do not always reflect population size. Gun background checks in Kentucky are among the highest in America even though the state is home to less than 2% of the nation’s population. To adjust for population size, a good measure is gun sales per 100,000 people each month.
Using FBI data, 24/7 Wall St. ranked states based on gun background checks in the first eight months of the year per 100,000 people in each state. Population data came from the Census Bureau and are five-year averages for 2020.The difference among states is large. In Hawaii, there were 8.9 gun background checks per 100,000 people in August. At the far end of the spectrum, in Kentucky, there were 600.9 for every 100,000 people that month.
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