US Gun Sales Reach 400 Million

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks gun sales and publishes a list of how many are handled as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Each month, the figures are reported by state. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies as a buyer. People who are excluded usually have criminal records. Of the more than 400,540,500 checks that have been done since November 1998, there have only been 4 million denials. Therefore, the data is the best proxy for U.S. gun sales available.

Sales have risen most years since 1999 (the first year checks were made for all 12 months). In that year, sales numbered 9,183,123. Last year the figure reached 39,695,315, up from 28,369,750 in 2019. The huge rise has been attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, growing civil unrest may have prompted people to buy guns for personal and family protection, many social scientists have posited, although this remains a matter of debate. Another theory is that chaos brought on by the pandemic was a major cause. A UC Davis School of Medicine study about fear of violence reports: “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated persistent structural, economic, and social inequities in the conditions that contribute to violence and its consequences.”

The New York Times points out that pandemic gun sales are largely over. While people who already own guns have been buying more, there is a new group of buyers. “New preliminary data from Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center show that about a fifth of all Americans who bought guns last year were first-time gun owners.” More of these buyers are people of color and women.

NPR commented on another trend: “Most often, the first-timers are purchasing a semiautomatic handgun, outpacing the second-most-purchased firearm, shotguns, by 2 to 1, according to NSSF [National Shooting Sports Foundation].”

Gun sales through the first eight months of this year totaled 27,841,219, compared to 26,756,487 in the same period last year. This makes it the largest first eight months of the year figure since sales were first recorded in 1998.

The state with the most gun sales through the first seven months was Illinois at 7,134,095. The state has only 4% of the population but accounted for 26% of gun sales for the period. In second place, Kentucky had 2,395,658 sales in the first eight months of 2021. That is over 8% of the guns sold nationwide, even though the state has only 1.3% of the U.S. population.

These are total gun sales by year since 1999:

  • 1999: 9,138,123
  • 2000: 8,543,037
  • 2001: 8,910,191
  • 2002: 8,454,322
  • 2003: 8,481,588
  • 2004: 8,687,671
  • 2005: 8,952,945
  • 2006: 10,036,933
  • 2007: 11,177,335
  • 2008: 12,709,023
  • 2009: 14,033,824
  • 2010: 14,409,616
  • 2011: 16,454,951
  • 2012: 19,592,303
  • 2013: 21,093,273
  • 2014: 20,968,547
  • 2015: 23,141,970
  • 2016: 27,538,673
  • 2017: 25,235,215
  • 2018: 26,181,936
  • 2019: 28,369,750
  • 2020: 39,695,315

Click here to see gun sales in each state ranked.

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