Different colored handguns on display in a gun store during April 2023
Different colored handguns on display in a gun store during April 2023 / Stephen Gutowski

As Election Nears, Gun Sales Fall

Americans bought fewer guns last month than any other May in the last five years, continuing a downward trend that began in January.

A new industry analysis of May 2024 FBI background check numbers found that 1,089,117 were related to gun sales. That’s down 7.2 percent from the previous May, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). It’s also the month’s lowest adjusted background check total since May 2019.

May 2024 Gun Sales / NSSF

The drop in monthly gun-related background checks marks a continuation of the firearms market’s slide over the first half of 2024. Similar analyses of adjusted background check data for March and April also revealed year-over-year declines. Meanwhile, gun checks appear to have declined month-over-month since March as well, with May posting nearly 400,000 fewer adjusted checks.

The sustained decline well into 2024 is unexpected in light of the upcoming presidential election in November. Gun sales have traditionally increased in election years, particularly in those featuring presidential races. The options before voters this fall also reflect the chasm that has opened up between the two major parties in their approach to gun policy. Former President Donald Trump is looking to unseat President Joe Biden, boasting another NRA endorsement and a pledge to protect gun owners from new restrictions despite recently losing his own gun rights. Biden, meanwhile, has used executive actions to advance gun restrictions throughout his tenure in office and continues to campaign on banning popular firearms like the AR-15.

Despite the downward trend in May, industry representatives maintained that the overall numbers were positive. They noted that May 2024’s sales numbers remained elevated above any other before the pandemic.

“May showed that over 1 million Americans chose to exercise their Second Amendment rights, which starts by being able to freely approach the gun counter to make a legal firearm purchase,” Mark Oliva, an NSSF spokesman, said in a statement. “That streak over more than 1 million background checks has continued for 58 months, uninterrupted.”

He suggested the sales numbers signaled gun owners remain a potent political force.

“This is, quite literally, a monthly poll of how Americans are voting with their wallets, each and every time they complete a background check through the FBI for the lawful sale of a firearm,” he said.

While there is no perfect tracker of gun sales, data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is the closest available proxy. All commercial sales made through licensed gun dealers require a NICS check on the buyer, and several states impose this requirement on private party sales as well.

However, most do not, and some allow persons with valid concealed carry permits to avoid undergoing a separate background check at the point of sale. Therefore, raw NICS numbers are not a perfect representation of total gun sales. The NSSF combs monthly data released by NICS to filter out recorded checks that aren’t related to sales—like gun-carry permit checks, for instance—to get as close as possible to an accurate count of monthly gun sales.

The unadjusted number of NICS checks in May 2024 was 2,000,505, a 14.6 percent decrease from May 2023’s total of 2,343,850.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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