Last year saw the third-most background checks on gun sales in the history of the United States.
The FBI ran 16.4 million gun-related checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in 2022, according to an industry analysis. That includes 1,747,506 checks in December alone. But both figures represent a continued retreat from all-time highs set in 2020.
Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), which conducted the analysis, said the results show the industry has “there continues to be a strong desire from law-abiding Americans to purchase the firearms of their choice.”
“This trend is similar to that of what NSSF has witnessed in the past,” he said in a statement. “When a new ceiling is reached on background checks for retail gun sales, the market settles to a ‘new normal.'”
Whether the numbers represent the bottom of the post-2020 market remains to be seen since every 12 months from that record-breaking year have continued to see at least slight declines. The passage of the first new federal gun restrictions in decades and the House passing an ill-fated ban on AR-15s and other popular firearms may have boosted sales in 2022, but not enough to bring it above 2021. While President Joe Biden (D.) is poised to push for further gun restrictions in the new year, Republicans are positioned to stymie his efforts since they just took control of the House.
How Americans interpret the risk to their ability to buy the guns they want, which has traditionally been a significant driver of gun sales, will determine how gun sales fare in 2023. The impact of the fallout from 2022’s landmark Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which is likely to see many modern gun restrictions declared unconstitutional, will also play a significant role.
Still, while December 2022’s background check numbers were down about 2.5 percent from the previous December, 2022’s total numbers were well ahead of pre-pandemic years.
“In this case, there were nearly 13.2 million before the 2020 and 2021 spike,” Oliva said. “The 16.4 million figure shows that the industry continues to meet a signal from today’s gun buyers.”
There is no one-to-one measure for gun sales in America. The FBI’s NICS numbers are the closest analog that exists because federal law requires background checks on all gun sales made through licensed dealers. However, they aren’t an exact match because most states don’t require NICS checks on private sales, and many states allow those with concealed carry licenses to buy without a check.
NICS is also often used during the concealed carry application process, and some states even run every resident who has a permit through the system every month. NSSF, the trade group for the gun industry, uses coding that the FBI includes in the data combined with insight from retail members to estimate how many NICS checks correspond with actual sales.