2021 was the second-best year on record for gun sales.
Americans bought more than 18.5 million guns, according to an industry analysis of FBI background check data. That puts the 2021 numbers about 12 percent off the all-time record set in 2020. But it also puts 2021 40 percent ahead of 2019’s total.
“The fact that over 18.5 million Americans chose lawfully purchase a firearm in 2021 is indicative the value Americans hold of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which did the analysis, said in a statement.
The numbers stabilizing below 2020 levels but above previous years indicate the gun industry has reached a new base level of demand. While strong short-term motivators such as the chaos surrounding the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide rioting in the wake of the murder of George Floyd have faded, other reasons for Americans to buy guns have remained. The threat of new restrictions on gun ownership, a traditional driver of sales spikes, likely motivated 2021 buyers as President Joe Biden (D.) pursued aggressive new gun-control measures through both legislation and unilateral executive action.
Oliva pointed specifically to the nomination of former-ATF agent and current gun-control activist David Chipman as an example of the Biden Administration’s animus towards the gun industry. He said Chipman’s failure to get confirmed coupled with the big sales numbers was further evidence the president’s gun agenda, which polled poorly throughout 2021, is faltering.
“Americans have taken stock of their personal safety concerns and their fundamental, God-given rights,” he said.
While 2021 did surpass 2020 in several months and during Black Friday, demand did not keep pace overall and slipped further at the end of the year. December 2021 was only the fifth-best month on record, slightly down from 2020. The fourth quarter of 2021 tells a similar story.
Still, 2021 saw more guns sold through September than 2019 saw for the entire year. Major gun company profits soared in 2021, with Ruger up 51 percent through the first six months and Winchester seeing a 110% sales spike.
The elevated demand of the last two years left much of the industry scrambling to fill shelves in 2021. The demand hit particularly hard among ammo manufacturers, with some estimating it could be years before supply can completely catch up.
Oliva said the industry is responding to 2021’s sustained demand for guns by spinning up new manufacturing plants–a sign it believes 2020 and 2021 were not anomalies.
“Manufacturers announced significant investments in the expansion and relocation, signaling the anticipation for continued growth,” he said. “The 2021 totals of 18.5 million background checks for a firearm sale prove the work to preserve and grow this vital industry is essential, and the men and women of this industry are able more than capable of meeting the growing demand for lawful firearm ownership.”
The number of checks processed through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is considered the best measure of gun sales in a given time period because all sales made through licensed dealers must include a check. However, they are not one-to-one representations of gun sales numbers for several reasons. For instance, most states do not require NICS checks during sales between non-licensed individuals on the used market. Additionally, 25 states allow buyers with certain permits, such as a concealed carry permit, to bypass the check because a check was required to obtain the permit in the first place.
Because NICS checks are used for permit applications and other processes beyond gun sales, the raw number of checks released by the FBI each month is not a good guide for how many guns were sold. Several states also recheck all of their gun-permit-holders every month, further increasing the number of NICS checks not associated with gun sales. NSSF and other analysts use coding provided by the FBI to estimate how many NICS checks were actually connected to gun sales.