The Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes a monthly list of how many firearm background checks are conducted on potential gun buyers as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies. Of the more than 400 million checks that have been done since November 1998, there have only been 2.1 million denials. Those who are denied usually have criminal records.
One of the trends the FBI background check data has shown recently is that gun sales have declined this year after a sharp jump in 2020 and a tally nearly as high in 2021. Gun background checks have long been used as a proxy for trends in gun sales. In the first eleven months of this year, background checks have totaled 28,560,115. The figure will certainly top 30 million by year end. In 2021, the full year total was 38,876,673.
While gun sales slumped beginning in late 2021 and continued to decline in the first few months of 2000, they appear to have begun to rebound. Background checks increased on a month-over-month basis in three of the past four months, including an increase of 277,000 between October and November. (Also see, the 50 most popular guns in the world.)
Many states have mirrored the national trend. To identify the states where gun sales are rebounding, we listed the 22 states where background checks both increased last month (from October to November), as well as in three of the most recent four months, based on FBI figures. Population figures are one-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s 2021 American Community Survey.
The decline in gun sales from the peaks in 2020 does not negate the fact that the U.S. has extremely high gun sales. Most estimates are that Americans own about 400 million guns, more than the total U.S. population count of not even 332 million. Americans’ use of guns in acts of violence is also extraordinarily high. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 41,474 gun deaths this year. Of these, 622 were mass shootings.
While people who already own guns have been buying more guns, there is a new group of buyers. According to the New York Times, data on 2020 gun sales from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center shows that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns that year were first-time gun owners. The study also revealed that half of those new gun owners were women, a fifth were Black Americans, and a fifth were Hispanic.
Even if gun sales resume their decline, sales are likely to be over 25 million next year, based on current trends. Suffice it to say, regardless of where sales go from here, this does not change the fact that U.S. gun sales remain remarkably high compared to anywhere else in the world. (Here are infamous gunfighters of the American West.)
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