Special Report

States Where People Buy the Most Guns

Gun sales in the U.S., as estimated by background checks, have surged at an extraordinary pace over the last two decades. Ever since background checks surpassed 10 million for the first time in 2006, they have jumped sharply, exploding early in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and reaching an all-time high of 39,695,315 that year. Firearm background checks are often used as a proxy for gun sales.

In the second half of 2021, background checks began to fall from 2020 levels, but only by a modest amount, to 38,876,673 for the entire year. In 2022, the sales drop was much more dramatic. Through the first nine months of this year, checks have fallen to 23,260,943, from 30,467,508 in the same period in 2021. 

While the recent drop does not have a ready explanation, there could be several reasons for the decrease. Concerns about civil unrest may have eased along with worry about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Several statistics about guns in America stand out. The United States is widely considered the civilian gun capital of the world. By the same token, it has among the highest gun violence, ranking 10th in gun deaths per capita. (These are the countries with the most gun deaths per capita.)

There are about 400 million guns in circulation in the U.S., according to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research project. This means that for every person in America, there are about 120 guns — an astonishingly high figure. The comparable number in Finland, for example, is 32 guns per 100 people, and in Germany it is 20 guns per 100 people. 

Along with the rise in gun sales, the level of gun deaths has been increasing as well. As of Oct. 6, according to the Gun Violence Archive, 34,010 people have been killed by guns in the U.S. There have been 519 mass shootings in 2022. This type of violence occurs daily. (These are the states where the most murders are committed with a gun.)

The amount of guns per capita varies from state to state as do gun purchases per person. Using FBI data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System, 24/7 Wall St. ranked states based on gun background checks per 100,000 people in each state in the first nine months of the year. Population data came from the Census Bureau and is for 2021.

The figures show a wide disparity. There were only nine background checks per 100,000 residents in Hawaii through the first nine months of the year. In Kentucky, there were 668 checks per 100,000 people during that time.

Click here to see states where people buy the most guns.

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