2020 Gun Sales: Record Breaking Numbers: Why are so many people buying guns?

In a recent analysis of 2020 gun sales, numbers were extremely high and are still continuing to grow, as civil unrest and political tensions rise. 

2020, a year of perceived civil and political unrest, was the year Americans purchased a record number of guns. According to Small Arms Analytics, a research consultancy based in Greenville, South Carolina, Americans purchased 23 million guns in the year 2020. This is a 65% increase compared to 2019, during which 13.9 million guns were sold (CNN). 

Additionally, the number of background checks increased linearly with the number of gun sales. The months in which the background checks were conducted insists that the this spike in firearm purchases is directly related to the pandemic. According to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the FBI conducted 3,740,688 background checks in March 2020, the month the COVID-19 pandemic began and restrictions tightened all over the world. This is a difference of over one million compared to the 2,644,851 tests in March of the previous year. 

According to The Guardian, the over 3.7 million guns purchased in March was the highest number on record in more than 20 years. Additionally, nearly 1.2 million total background checks were conducted in a single week, starting March 16, breaking all previous records going back to 1998, according to FBI data. Via NICS firearm background check data, 3,931,607 background checks were conducted in June; 3,639,224 in July; 3,626,335 in November; and 3,937,066 in December. 

The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that 5 million of these Americans purchasing guns were first-time gun buyers. CNN reports that NSSF data shows that “gun sales among Black Americans are up 58% through September.” Douglas Jefferson, vice president of the National African American Gun Association, says that the advocacy group had 30,000 members nationwide prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, about 5,000 new members have joined. 

The increase in gun sales also hit record numbers in individual states. A record number of 904,035 Georgia residents received firearm background checks in 2020, up nearly 68% from the previous year. In Michigan, January background checks increased by 155% from the previous year, and New Jersey saw a jump in gun sales of 240% from 2019 to 2020 (CNN). Many states nationwide have also reported a lack of ammo and bare shelves in gun retail stores due to the high demand. For example, Dave Leon, co-owner of B&D Gunsmoke in Schenectady County, New York, stated, “Our sales, we surpassed 2019 by June…  Lines like you’ve never seen in the gun business” (The Daily Gazette).

The exponential increase in gun purchases all occurred during months of great unrest. March was when the COVID-19 pandemic began and statewide lockdowns were implemented, June and July were months of great civil unrest due to protests and riots in many major American cities resulting from police killings, and November and December were the months following the United States presidential election. 

The record high purchase in gun sales continues to surge in 2021. In January of 2021, gun sales increased 60% to 4,317,804 according to FBI data, making it the largest single month since the FBI began collecting data regarding gun sales in 1998. While gun sales hit a record number in 2020, it is estimated that this trend will continue into 2021. 



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