Revolvers on sale at a gun store in Virginia
Revolvers on sale at a gun store in Virginia / Stephen Gutowski

Black Friday Sees Record FBI Gun Background Checks

Americans were out in full force buying guns during the start of the holiday shopping season.

That’s the implication of the background check numbers released by the FBI on Monday. The agency, which oversees the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), reported a record number of checks on Black Friday 2023. This year’s 214,913 checks are up 5.5 percent from the previous record set in 2017 and ten percent from last year.

Black Friday 2023 was the third-busiest day in the history of the FBI’s background check system–though the agency’s official report has yet to be updated to reflect that fact. However, the week leading up to this year’s Black Friday did not climb into the top ten rankings. The 680,671 NICS checks performed from Sunday to Friday last week represented a 4.3 percent decrease from 2022 and a 16.8 percent decrease from 2020.

The number of NICS checks has exploded in recent years as Americans of all stripes have sought out guns for self-defense since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight of the top ten days for NICS checks have happened since 2020. The same is true for nine of the top ten weeks.

The number of NICS checks in a given period has traditionally been one of the most reliable gauges of how many gun sales occurred during that period because new gun sales across the country, and used gun sales by private sellers in some states, must go through NICS by federal law. However, the raw number of NICS checks has increasingly diverged from the number of gun sales over recent years as the system is also used for other purposes, such as background checks associated with gun-carry permit applications–with some states even re-checking every resident with a carry permit each month.

For monthly NICS data releases, the FBI reports more detailed information on how checks break down between sales and other purposes. That allows industry groups and media companies to whittle down the count to get closer to just the sales-related checks. The limited nature of Monday’s release doesn’t make that process possible. So, the numbers are less representative of the true number of gun sales on Black Friday.

Still, those issues are identical to previous Black Friday NICS releases. That means the increase in checks does indicate a corresponding increase in gun sales. The uptick comes after the industry has seen a multi-year decline from the sales peaks in 2020. It is another small, but potentially significant, sign consumer demand has found its new bottom at a level still comfortably above pre-2020 levels.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade group for the gun industry that published the FBI figures, said the numbers indicate sustained interest in gun ownership among Americans.

“There’s still a strong demand for firearms,” Mark Oliva, an NSSF spokesman, told The Reload. “Even though we see the number settling out from the highs of 2020 and 2021, there’s still a strong demand signal coming from the customers for firearm ownership.”

Oliva said gun sales this year are still on track to be down from 2022. However, he noted the bright spots coming out of the fall point to a potential rebound coming. He said NSSF expects next year will see more sales due, at least in part, to the upcoming presidential race.

“These numbers are consistent with what we’ve seen throughout the year,” he said. “And, given the cycles that we see annually, I would expect that the numbers will probably start to tick up again in 2024 as we’re going into the election.”

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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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