Special Report

States Where Gun Sales Are Falling The Most

The FBI began to track firearms background checks in the late 1990s and report the statistics every month as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. 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.

To determine the states where gun sales fell the most, 24/7 Wall St. listed all 47 states with a reported decline in firearm background checks in the first eight months of 2022 compared to the same period in 2021. States are ranked in order of the largest absolute decline in background checks. The three states that did not have declines — Kentucky, Washington, and Hawaii — are not included. Population figures came from the Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey and are five-year averages. 

In the second half of 2021, gun sales began to fall from 2020 levels but dropped only by a modest amount to 38,876,673 for the full year 2021. In 2022, the sales drop was much more dramatic. 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 a 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.

The level of deaths from guns has similarly been increasing in recent years. So far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, 31,363 people have been killed by guns in the U.S. There have been 482 mass shootings in 2022. (These are the cities with the most guns traced to crime in every state.)

Meanwhile, the debate over gun regulations has been so polarized that solutions have been few and hard to come by, which means the problems of gun violence are very unlikely to change.

The nationwide drop in gun sales this year is even more pronounced in some states. In Illinois, the figure dropped 64% for the period. For Indiana, the drop was 43%. (These are the states with the most gun purchases per person.)

Click here to see states where gun sales are falling the most. 

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