Special Report

18 States Where Gun Sales Are Still Soaring

Spencer Platt / Getty Images News via Getty Images

A recent report estimated that Americans bought close to 60 million guns during the pandemic. In the three years beginning in 2020, at least 30 million gun-related background checks were conducted in the United States each year, roughly double the figures 10 years prior and by far the highest annual total in the more than two decades since the FBI began tracking these figures.  

This May, about 2.3 million firearm-related background checks were initiated across the 50 states. This, however, does not mean that 2.3 million guns were purchased in May. Firearm background checks can be initiated for reasons other than the direct purchasing of a gun, including returns, rentals, pawn shop transactions, and rechecks, which some states conduct periodically on residents with gun permits.

Still, background checks remain the best available proxy for gun sales, and after removing some categories of checks, they provide a good estimate of trends in the American firearm market. Based on that estimate, gun sales increased by at least 2% in 18 states, with some states seeing spikes of more than 40% in gun sales and one state recording a surge of more than 70%.(also take a look at the states where the government will take your gun by force.)

To identify the states where gun sales are increasing the most between May 2022 and May 2023, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. To reach a more accurate approximation of gun sales, we adjusted background checks by excluding checks for such categories as pawn shop transactions, returns, rentals, and rechecks. Even after these adjustments, background checks still serve only as a rough approximation because every state has different accounting practices and background check laws. (These are the companies selling the most guns.)

The states that reported the largest increases in background checks this May compared to May 2022 include both states that tend to rank relatively low in gun sales per capita (approximated by checks per capita) each month and those that rank among the highest. Hawaii’s increase of more than 70% is substantial, but the state reports relatively few checks, even after adjusting for population. 

Still, among the states with the largest increases in checks, there are many that already had relatively high background checks per capita, and the big increase in checks in May moved the states even higher up the ranks in estimated gun sales per capita. Oregon, which had a 45% increase in background checks in May, moved from ninth to first in estimated gun sales per capita. (These are the states where the most people bought guns in May.)

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

Click here to read our detailed methodology.

Source: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP via Getty Images

18. California
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +2.0% (+1,928 — 9th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 97,620 — 3rd most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 95,692 — 3rd most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 2.5 — 6th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 2.5 — 5th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 39.0 million — the largest

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17. Oklahoma
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +2.5% (+575 — 13th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 23,472 — 25th most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 22,897 — 23rd most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 5.8 — 17th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 5.7 — 18th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4.0 million — 23rd smallest

Source: ASphotowed / iStock via Getty Images

16. Iowa
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +2.7% (+218 — 11th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 8,250 — 11th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 8,032 — 11th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 2.6 — 7th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 2.5 — 7th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3.2 million — 20th smallest

15. Arkansas
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +3.1% (+432 — 16th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 14,300 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 13,868 — 19th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 4.7 — 23rd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 4.6 — 20th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3.0 million — 18th smallest

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14. Colorado
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +4.0% (+1,609 — 7th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 41,706 — 12th most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 40,097 — 13th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 7.1 — 10th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 6.9 — 10th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 5.8 million — 21st largest

Source: halbergman / iStock via Getty Images

13. Vermont
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +5.0% (+144 — 2nd smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 3,023 — 3rd fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 2,879 — 3rd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 4.7 — 21st fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 4.4 — 19th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 647,064 — 2nd smallest

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12. West Virginia
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +6.1% (+719 — 4th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 12,485 — 16th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 11,766 — 15th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 7.0 — 11th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 6.6 — 14th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1.8 million — 12th smallest

Source: Patrick Smith / Getty Images News via Getty Images

11. Delaware
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +6.4% (+270 — 8th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 4,492 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 4,222 — 4th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 4.4 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 4.1 — 16th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1.0 million — 6th smallest

Source: DOMINICK REUTER / AFP via Getty Images

10. New Hampshire
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +7.1% (+659 — 10th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 9,977 — 13th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 9,318 — 12th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 7.2 — 9th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 6.7 — 13th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 1.4 million — 10th smallest

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9. New Mexico
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +7.6% (+915 — 15th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 12,885 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 11,970 — 17th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 6.1 — 15th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 5.7 — 19th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 2.1 million — 15th smallest

Source: Spencer Platt / Getty Images News via Getty Images

8. New Jersey
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +13.7% (+1,589 — 14th smallest decrease)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 13,188 — 18th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 11,599 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 1.4 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 1.3 — 2nd fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 9.3 million — 11th largest

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Source: Jacob Boomsma / iStock via Getty Images

7. Nebraska
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +20.7% (+1,085 — 15th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 6,339 — 9th fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 5,254 — 5th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 3.2 — 8th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 2.7 — 8th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Long guns
> 2022 population: 2.0 million — 14th smallest

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images News via Getty Images

6. Illinois
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +28.3% (+14,859 — 4th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 67,377 — 5th most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 52,518 — 8th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 5.4 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 4.2 — 17th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 12.6 million — 6th largest

Source: GEORGE FREY / AFP via Getty Images

5. Utah
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +36.1% (+7,481 — 8th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 28,193 — 21st most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 20,712 — 25th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 8.3 — 6th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 6.1 — 15th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 3.4 million — 21st smallest

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Source: ROB KERR / AFP via Getty Images

4. Oregon
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +45.0% (+13,468 — 3rd largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 43,419 — 11th most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 29,951 — 20th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 10.2 — the most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 7.1 — 9th most
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 4.2 million — 24th smallest

Source: Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

3. Maryland
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +45.7% (+7,915 — 5th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 25,234 — 24th most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 17,319 — 22nd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 4.1 — 14th fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 2.8 — 9th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 6.2 million — 19th largest

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Source: J. Michael Jones / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

2. North Carolina
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +47.8% (+19,731 — the largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 61,016 — 6th most
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 41,285 — 12th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 5.7 — 18th most
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 3.9 — 13th fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: Handguns
> 2022 population: 10.7 million — 9th largest

Source: intek1 / Getty Images

1. Hawaii
> Change in background checks, May 2022-May 2023: +71.5% (+951 — 12th largest increase)
> Firearm background checks, May 2023: 2,282 — 2nd fewest
> Firearm background checks, May 2022: 1,331 — the fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2023: 1.6 — 3rd fewest
> Firearm background checks per 1,000 residents, May 2022: 0.9 — the fewest
> Most common type of firearm check, May 2023: No data available
> 2022 population: 1.4 million — 11th smallest

Methodology

To identify the states where gun sales are increasing fastest, 24/7 Wall St. used data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. We included the 18 states that reported at least a 2% increase in adjusted firearm background checks between May 2022 and May 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 new firearm purchases, background checks still serve only as a rough approximation, because every state has different laws in terms of when background checks are required and different 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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