Some U.S. cities became increasingly more dangerous during the pandemic as the violent victimization rate rose in urban areas from 2020 to 2021, according to Department of Justice data. Against the violence, pandemic concerns, civil unrest, and a backdrop of recurring mass shooting events, gun sales – as approximated by firearm background checks – spiked in 2020 and 2021. Many Americans who had never owned a gun were purchasing them.
In 2022, most types of violent crime dropped in major American cities, while robberies and theft cases rose, according to the Council on Criminal Justice. Background checks also declined in 2022 to pre-pandemic levels, and it appears they have been relatively flat nationwide so far this year, increasing by 0.3% in the first four months of 2023 compared to the first four months of last year. While background checks increased in some states and decreased in others, gun sales were not even in all states. (Here is every state’s grade on gun laws.)
To find the states where the most people bought guns so far this year, 24/7 Wall St. used FBI data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System for the first four months of 2023. To get a more accurate approximation of gun sales, we excluded several categories of checks, including pawn shop transactions, returns, rentals, and rechecks, which are conducted periodically by some states on existing permit holders. Even after adjusting background checks, they still only serve as a rough approximation. We ranked states based on the number of firearm background checks in the first four months of 2023 per 1,000 people.
Among the 10 states with the most firearm background checks per 1,000 residents from January to April of this year are the Western states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and Wyoming. In terms of total numbers of firearm background checks over the January-to-April period, Texas had the most at more than 507,000, and also had the most in the year-prior period. Florida, with almost 461,000 firearm background checks, was second.
Some of the states where the most people bought guns are also among the states where background checks spiked, including Oregon and Washington, where background checks jumped respectively by 55% and 17% in the first four months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. In Alabama, however, background checks dropped by 21% over the period even though the state ranks third in gun sales per capita. Conversely, in Hawaii, which ranks dead last in gun sales per capita, background checks soared by 32%.
Firearm background checks are a frequent topic in the debate over gun control policy in the United States. The federal government only requires background checks before the sale of guns at federally licensed arms dealers and not at private gun shops. Many states have their own additional policies. Fourteen states and Washington, D.C. require a criminal background check for the sale of all firearms. Seven others either have additional or slightly different mandates, according to Giffords Law Center. (These are the 10 countries Americans buy the most handguns from.)
Click here to see the states where the most people have bought guns so far this year.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.
Sponsored: Find a Qualified Financial Advisor
Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to 3 fiduciary financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.