Special Report

States With the Most Gun Purchases per Person

Gun sales trends in the U.S. can be measured in several ways and observed at both the national and the state levels. While raw sales is an important indicator, one of the most valuable yardsticks is gun sales per person. Such a measure allows for direct comparison between states, whether they are highly populated like California or Texas or less populated like Rhode Island and Wyoming. 

FBI data on background checks is the best available proxy of U.S. gun sales, even though private sales of firearms, including those at gun shows, are exempted from background checks in some states.

The FBI’s Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System publishes a monthly list of how many firearm background checks are conducted on potential gun buyers. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies. Of the more than 400 million checks conducted since November 1998, there have only been 2.1 million denials. More than half of those who are denied have criminal records.

To find states with the most gun purchases per person, 24/7 Wall St. used FBI data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System, ranking states based on gun background checks in the first 11 months of the year per 1,000 people in each state. Population data came from the Census Bureau and are one-year averages for 2021.

There is no definitive pattern of gun sales per person per state. However, states that have the highest numbers tend to be Southern and Mountain states. Among the top 10 by this measure are Kentucky, Tennessee, Utah, Alabama, Montana, and Idaho. (Also see, states where the most guns are stolen.)

One of the trends the background check data has shown recently is that gun sales have declined this year after a sharp jump in 2020 and the first part of 2021, followed by a return to the pre-2020 levels. Gun background checks in the first 11 months of this year have totaled 28,560,115. The figure will certainly top 30 million for 2022. In 2021, the full-year total was 38,876,673. 

The recent decline in background checks to pre-pandemic levels does not negate the fact that the U.S. has extremely high gun sales compared to any other nation in the world. According to estimates from the 2018 Small Arms Survey, Americans own nearly 400 million guns. The total U.S. population count is under 332 million people. Americans’ use of guns in acts of violence is also extraordinarily high. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 41,355 gun deaths this year. Of these, 622 were mass shootings. (Here are 28 guns used the most to commit crimes in America.)

Click here to see the states with the most gun purchases per person.

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