Special Report

20 States Where Gun Sales Are Plummeting

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Last month, President Biden signed a new executive order designed to increase the likelihood that background checks be initiated before guns are sold in the United States. And though many polls indicate that the vast majority of Americans – Republicans and Democrats alike – support universal background checks, the President’s new order does not extend that far. Instead, the order gives attorney general Merrick Garland greater authority to ensure that gun dealers are complying with current background check laws, whatever they may be. The White House said the order would move the U.S. “as close to universal background checks as possible without additional legislation.” 

Last month, nearly three million firearm background checks were conducted in the United States, according to data compiled by the FBI. That figure represents a substantial increase of more than 450,000 checks, or 18% compared to February, when 2.5 million were conducted. But last month’s figure is more or less in line with that of March of 2022. Background checks are often used to approximate the level of gun sales. However, background checks can also be initiated for reasons that are not tied to gun sales, including rentals and pawn shop transactions. (Also see, the best-selling guns last year.)

To identify the states where gun sales are decreasing fastest, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, looking at the states with the largest percentage decrease in adjusted-firearm background checks from March 2022 to March 2023. To reach a more accurate approximation of gun sales, we excluded checks for such categories as 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, background checks still serve only as a rough approximation, because every state has different background checks laws and accounting practices.

Click here to see 20 states where gun sales are plummeting.

Click here for a detailed methodology.

The states with the highest reported decreases in background checks in March compared to the same period in 2022 include both those that tend to rank relatively low each month in checks per capita and those that rank among the highest. 

For example, Alabama, which had the third-largest decrease in background checks, at 23.5%, had the fifth-most adjusted background checks per capita in March at 10.9 per 1,000 residents, down from a nation-leading 14.2 per 1,000 residents in March of 2022. Conversely, Rhode Island, which had the fourth largest decline in background checks, at 22.1%, had the 4th fewest adjusted background checks per capita in March at 2.2 per 1,000 residents. (These are the states where the most people bought guns last month.)

20. Oklahoma
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -10.9% (-3,662 — 18th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 29,881 — 25th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 33,543 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 7.4 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 8.3 — 19th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4,019,800 — 23rd smallest

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19. Nevada
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -11.5% (-1,773 — 17th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 13,665 — 13th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 15,438 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 4.3 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 4.9 — 10th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3,177,772 — 19th smallest

18. Texas
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -11.5% (-18,160 — the largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 139,942 — the most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 158,102 — the most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 4.7 — 10th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 5.3 — 11th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 30,029,572 — 2nd largest

17. New York
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -12.2% (-4,921 — 14th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 35,483 — 22nd most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 40,404 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 1.8 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 2.1 — 3rd fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Long guns
> 2022 population: 19,677,151 — 4th largest

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16. South Dakota
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -13.0% (-1,117 — 11th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 7,469 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 8,586 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 8.2 — 17th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 9.4 — 13th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Long guns
> 2022 population: 909,824 — 5th smallest

15. Georgia
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -13.3% (-8,029 — 8th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 52,381 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 60,410 — 13th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 4.8 — 12th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 5.5 — 12th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 10,912,876 — 8th largest

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14. Ohio
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -13.5% (-9,685 — 6th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 62,130 — 10th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 71,815 — 10th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 5.3 — 13th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 6.1 — 16th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 11,756,058 — 7th largest

13. Kansas
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -13.5% (-2,541 — 19th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 16,226 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 18,767 — 18th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 5.5 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 6.4 — 20th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 2,937,150 — 16th smallest

12. Indiana
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -14.0% (-7,323 — 10th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 45,121 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 52,444 — 18th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 6.6 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 7.7 — 24th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 6,833,037 — 17th largest

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11. Missouri
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -14.1% (-7,611 — 9th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 46,367 — 19th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 53,978 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 7.5 — 19th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 8.7 — 18th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 6,177,957 — 18th largest

10. North Dakota
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -15.9% (-1,215 — 15th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 6,426 — 6th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 7,641 — 7th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 8.2 — 16th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 9.8 — 10th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Long guns
> 2022 population: 779,261 — 4th smallest

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9. Tennessee
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -16.1% (-13,752 — 3rd largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 71,551 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 85,303 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 10.1 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 12.1 — 3rd most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 7,051,339 — 15th largest

8. Kentucky
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -17.0% (-5,159 — 12th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 25,105 — 25th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 30,264 — 25th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 5.6 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 6.7 — 21st fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4,512,310 — 25th smallest

7. Mississippi
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -17.9% (-4,747 — 15th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 21,824 — 22nd fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 26,571 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 7.4 — 22nd most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 9.0 — 16th most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 2,940,057 — 17th smallest

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6. Connecticut
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -18.9% (-4,988 — 13th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 21,344 — 20th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 26,332 — 23rd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 5.9 — 21st fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 7.3 — 23rd fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3,626,205 — 22nd smallest

5. Delaware
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -19.9% (-1,133 — 12th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 4,551 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 5,684 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 4.5 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 5.6 — 13th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1,018,396 — 6th smallest

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4. Rhode Island
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -22.1% (-690 — 8th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 2,432 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 3,122 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 2.2 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 2.9 — 4th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1,093,734 — 7th smallest

3. Alabama
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -23.5% (-16,975 — 2nd largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 55,265 — 14th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 72,240 — 9th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 10.9 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 14.2 — the most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 5,074,296 — 24th largest

2. South Carolina
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -24.7% (-10,060 — 5th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 30,587 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 40,647 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 5.8 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 7.7 — 23rd most
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 5,282,634 — 23rd largest

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1. Louisiana
> Change in background checks, Mar 2022- Mar 2023: -27.6% (-9,450 — 7th largest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2023: 24,752 — 24th fewest
> Firearm background checks, Mar 2022: 34,202 — 23rd most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2023: 5.4 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, Mar 2022: 7.5 — 24th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, Mar 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4,590,241 — 25th largest

Methodology

To identify the states where gun sales are decreasing fastest, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, looking at the states with the largest percentage decrease in adjusted-firearm background checks from March 2022 to March 2023. To reach a more accurate approximation of gun sales, we excluded checks for such categories as 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, background checks still serve only as a rough approximation, because every state has different background checks laws and accounting practices.

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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