Customers examine pistols on sale at a 2023 Virginia gun show
Customers examine pistols on sale at a 2023 Virginia gun show / Stephen Gutowski

Gun Sales Fall in March

Americans bought fewer guns in March 2024 than they did last year, and sales even fell below pre-pandemic levels.

Last month, an industry analysis of the number of FBI background checks found that 1,442,061 were related to gun sales. That’s down 7.4 percent from the previous March, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). It’s also behind March 2022, 2021, 2020, 2018, and 2013.

The slip in sales comes as the market has lost its footing through the early part of 2024. After rallying at the end of 2023, with three consecutive months seeing higher sales numbers year-over-year, the first three months of 2024 have seen year-over-year sales declines. The reversal of fortunes for the gun industry is unexpected since sales tend to increase during election years, especially when at least one candidate is running to implement new gun bans.

With the presidential election re-match between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump already cemented, gun buyers have shown little interest in stocking up on firearms before November. That’s despite the stark divide on policy offered up by each candidate. Biden has doubled down on his support for a federal “assault weapons” ban, while Trump has promised not to implement any new gun restrictions.

Politics aside, the continued sales slump also comes after Americans went on an unprecedented gun-buying spree during 2020 and 2021. Despite earlier plateaus, the gun market’s post-pandemic hangover may not have ended, and the industry’s search for a new floor may still be underway.

Still, the industry pointed to positive signs in the numbers.

“Over 1.4 million Americans lawfully purchased a firearm at retail in March, a trend of over 1 million background checks for firearm sales that’s continued for nearly five years,” Mark Oliva, an NSSF spokesman, said in a statement.

He argued the numbers were bad news for President Biden.

“These background checks continue to show that President Joe Biden’s demonization of the firearm industry and law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment rights is out of step with America,” Oliva said. “America is choosing a different path. These figures demonstrate that Americans reject those misguided policies and choose to lawfully and responsibly exercise their rights to keep and bear arms.”

Most experts consider the number of background checks run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to be the best indication of how many gun sales occurred in a given period. That’s because, while there is no nationwide gun registry that tracks every sale, all commercial sales made through licensed gun dealers require a NICS check on the buyer. However, the raw number of NICS checks is not a one-to-one representation of gun sales for several reasons.

First, sales of used guns between private individuals do not require a NICS check in most states. Additionally, some states allow those with concealed carry permits to skip the duplicative NICS process for gun purchases, and a customer can buy multiple guns under a single NICS check. At the same time, the FBI performs NICS checks during events that aren’t gun sales, such as the issuance or recertification of concealed carry permits. Some states, like Illinois, recheck all of their permit holders every month–vastly inflating the number of overall NICS checks beyond just those used for gun sales.

That’s why NSSF, the gun industry’s trade group, analyzes the NICS reports to remove checks that the FBI marks as related to events other than gun sales. The group’s adjusted NICS numbers represent the most accurate reading of gun sales in a month. The unadjusted number of NICS checks in March 2024 was 2,497,577, a 15.5 percent decrease from the previous year.

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


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

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