Special Report

States Where Gun Sales Are Increasing the Most

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Colorado state legislature earlier this month had the first hearing of a bill that, if passed, will require a three-day waiting period for the purchase of a firearm in the state. The bill, part of a package of gun-control measures introduced by state Democrats, would make Colorado the 10th state to require a waiting period. Meanwhile, Colorado’s firearm background checks, a rough approximation of gun sales, increased by 3.5% last month compared to February 2022.  (These are the states with the weakest gun laws.)

To identify the states where gun sales are increasing fastest, 24/7 Wall St. used FBI data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System, looking at the 20 states with the largest percentage increase in adjusted-firearm background checks from February 2022 to February 2023. To reach a closer approximation of gun sales, we excluded categories of checks such as for pawn shop transactions, returns, rentals, and rechecks (which are conducted periodically by some states on existing permit holders). 

Even after removing some types of checks that are clearly unrelated to a new firearm purchase, because every state has different background checks laws and accounting practices, background checks still serve only as a rough approximation. 

The states that reported the largest increases in background checks in February compared to the same period in 2022 include both states that tend to rank relatively low each month in checks and those that rank among the highest in checks per capita each month. Hawaii and New Jersey, which rank last and second-to-last in checks per person, each reported an increase in checks.

Meanwhile, Oregon, which ranks second-highest among states in background checks per person, reported a nearly 40% increase in checks in February compared to February of 2022. (These are the states where the most people bought guns in January)

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

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

20. New Mexico
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +2.1% (+274 — 5th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 13,637 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 13,363 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 6.5 — 19th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 6.3 — 21st most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 2,113,344 — 15th smallest

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19. Nebraska
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +4.6% (+305 — 6th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 6,879 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 6,574 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 3.5 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 3.3 — 8th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Long guns
> 2022 population: 1,967,923 — 14th smallest

18. Iowa
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +3.0% (+356 — 7th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 12,118 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 11,762 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 3.8 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 3.7 — 10th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3,200,517 — 20th smallest

Source: Courtesy of Darrell P. via Yelp

17. Hawaii
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +29.8% (+395 — 8th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 1,722 — the fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 1,327 — the fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 1.2 — the fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 0.9 — the fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: N/A
> 2022 population: 1,440,196 — 11th smallest

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Source: GEORGE FREY / AFP via Getty Images

16. Utah
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +1.9% (+404 — 9th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 21,361 — 23rd fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 20,957 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 6.3 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 6.2 — 23rd most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3,380,800 — 21st smallest

Source: artas / iStock via Getty Images

15. Arkansas
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +3.5% (+564 — 10th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 16,907 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 16,343 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 5.6 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 5.4 — 19th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3,045,637 — 18th smallest

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Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images News via Getty Images

14. New Jersey
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +5.1% (+648 — 11th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 13,341 — 15th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 12,693 — 15th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 1.4 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 1.4 — 2nd fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 9,261,699 — 11th largest

Source: Courtesy of R&R's WV Gunshows via Facebook

13. West Virginia
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +4.5% (+669 — 12th smallest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 15,568 — 18th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 14,899 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 8.8 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 8.4 — 7th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1,775,156 — 12th smallest

Source: William B. Plowman / Getty Images News via Getty Images

12. New Hampshire
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +7.3% (+739 — 12th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 10,805 — 12th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 10,066 — 12th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 7.7 — 10th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 7.2 — 14th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1,395,231 — 10th smallest

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Source: Boston Globe / Boston Globe via Getty Images

11. Massachusetts
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +5.2% (+937 — 11th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 19,043 — 22nd fewest
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 18,106 — 20th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 2.7 — 6th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 2.6 — 6th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 6,981,974 — 16th largest

10. Oklahoma
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +3.7% (+978 — 10th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 27,574 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 26,596 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 6.9 — 16th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 6.6 — 19th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4,019,800 — 23rd smallest

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Source: Juan Jose Napuri / iStock via Getty Images

9. Washington
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +2.2% (+1,165 — 9th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 55,269 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 54,104 — 9th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 7.1 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 6.9 — 15th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 7,785,786 — 13th largest

Source: mtcurado / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images

8. Colorado
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +3.5% (+1,473 — 8th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 43,794 — 16th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 42,321 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 7.5 — 11th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 7.2 — 13th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 5,839,926 — 21st largest

7. Ohio
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +4.3% (+2,262 — 7th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 54,822 — 9th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 52,560 — 11th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 4.7 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 4.5 — 12th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 11,756,058 — 7th largest

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Source: John Moore / Getty Images News via Getty Images

6. Arizona
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +9.5% (+3,387 — 6th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 38,903 — 19th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 35,516 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 5.3 — 20th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 4.8 — 14th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 7,359,197 — 14th largest

Source: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images News via Getty Images

5. Michigan
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +6.7% (+3,835 — 5th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 60,721 — 7th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 56,886 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 6.1 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 5.7 — 24th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 10,034,113 — 10th largest

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4. California
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +4.6% (+4,247 — 4th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 95,737 — 4th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 91,490 — 4th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 2.5 — 5th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 2.3 — 5th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 39,029,342 — the largest

Source: ROB KERR / AFP via Getty Images

3. Oregon
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +39.1% (+12,326 — 3rd largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 43,828 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 31,502 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 10.3 — the most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 7.4 — 12th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4,240,137 — 24th smallest

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images News via Getty Images

2. Illinois
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +21.1% (+12,843 — 2nd largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 73,686 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 60,843 — 7th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 5.9 — 25th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 4.8 — 15th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 12,582,032 — 6th largest

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Source: Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

1. Maryland
> Change in background checks, Feb 2022- Feb 2023: +71.4% (+13,250 — the largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2023: 31,800 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks, Feb 2022: 18,550 — 21st fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2023: 5.2 — 18th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Feb 2022: 3.0 — 7th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Feb 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 6,164,660 — 19th largest

Methodology

To identify the states where gun sales are increasing fastest, 24/7 Wall St. used FBI data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System, looking at the 20 states with the largest percent increase in adjusted-firearm background checks from February 2022 to February 2023. To get closer to an accurate approximation of gun sales, we excluded categories of checks, including pawn shop transactions, returns, rentals, and rechecks, which are conducted periodically by some states on existing permit holders. 

Even after removing some types of checks that are clearly unrelated to a new firearm purchase, because every state has different laws in terms of when background checks are required and different accounting practices, background checks still serve only as a rough approximation. 

The most glaring example of this is Illinois, which alone accounted for about half of the background checks in the country after excluding the aforementioned categories of checks. Illinois no longer breaks down background checks separately, but did so from July 2016 through July 2021. During the four full years of data, an average of 9.2% of Illinois’s non-private sale or gun-specific permit checks were non-rechecks. We applied that average to the most recent state figures to estimate Illinois’ count. This was done only because Illinois is such a glaring example of inconsistency and because there was historical data to produce an estimate. 

There are likely other states for which the background check figures listed are inflated or underestimated proxies for gun sales. 

Population data came from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population and Housing Unit Estimates Program, and are for July of 2022, the most recent data available. 

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