Gun and ammunition boxes at a gun store in January 2022
Gun and ammunition boxes at a gun store in January 2022 / Stephen Gutowski

Gun Sales Slip in January

Gun sales continued their recent slide last month.

An industry report found January 2022 was the fifth-best on record for gun sales during that month, with just under an estimated 1.2 million sales. That represents a decline from sales numbers that had either set new monthly records or been the runners-up dating back to March 2020, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) analysis of FBI background check data. The numbers put January closer to December of 2021, the fifth-best December on record.

The numbers suggest more air may still be left to come out of the market since it saw record sales driven by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, nationwide rioting, and the presidential election. While 2020 set the record for most estimated sales in a year, 2021 also recorded elevated demand and came in second all-time. Now, it appears the market may see further decline before demand completely levels off.

However, the Januarys that saw higher levels of background checks related to gun sales than 2022 had significant events precede them. For instance, January 2013’s spike came as legislators debated new federal gun restrictions in response to the Sandy Hook massacre the month before. Similarly, January 2016’s jump came after the terrorist attack in San Bernadino, California.

January 2022 saw elevated sales compared to most other years.

Mark Oliva, an NSSF spokesperson, noted that while January’s numbers were down about 42 percent from the all-time record set last year, they also represented the 30th consecutive month with over a million gun sales checks.

“The NSSF Adjusted FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) report of 1,190,856 shows us that there is a continued interest in firearm ownership in America,” he said in a statement.

There is no one-to-one measure for gun sales in America. However, the number of checks done by NICS is considered the most authoritative measure available for several reasons. All new gun sales must go through a licensed dealer, and nearly all sales by a licensed dealer must be run through a NICS check. Some states also require NICS checks on sales of used guns between people who are not licensed dealers, though most do not.

25 states also allow citizens with certain permits, such as a concealed weapons permit, to bypass the check on individual gun purchases since they are required to pass a NICS check to obtain the permit in the first place. Permit checks are another common use of the NICS system, and some states recheck all of their permit holders each month. This makes the raw number of NICS checks an unreliable measure of gun sales.

That’s why NSSF and other industry analysts often use codes provided in the FBI’s NICS data to filter out the number of permit and other non-sales-related checks to provide the most accurate estimate of gun sales in a given period.

Oliva said the industry is still ramping up to meet the overall demand for guns and ammo, even as companies try to forecast where that demand will level off.

“The firearm industry is coming off two record-setting years of firearm purchases and sustained production to meet that increased demand,” he said. “While everyone is looking for what the “new” normal will be coming off those outsized years of background checks for the purchase of a gun, January’s figure of nearly 1.2 million shows that America’s demand for lawful gun ownership continues at a healthy and sustainable pace.”

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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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