Background checks on gun sales for June 2023 were down nearly 20 percent from June 2022, according to a report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).
The industry group estimated there were 1,110,696 gun sales in June 2023. That is a 19.6 percent decrease from the June 2022 total of 1,382,287. The figures show a continuation of the downward trend sales have seen since setting all-time records in 2020. The numbers for the entire second quarter also show a decline compared to last year. This year’s 3,654,134 second-quarter sales mark a decline of 6.7 percent from 2022’s 3,916,986.
The decline in both June and second-quarter gun sales figures means the market is the closest it has been to pre-2020 levels. With Americans continuing to purchase fewer guns year over year, it remains in question where the market will settle after the 2020 spike.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Mark Oliva, an NSSF spokesman, told The Reload.
“I’m not discounting the fact that we’re nearly 20 percent down from last year. But we’re still seeing that market settle out,” he said. “So, where does it settle out? We don’t know. And that’s the difficult part about this. Any manufacturing industry is going to go through its highs and lows. Clearly, things are still somewhat volatile.”
Cam Edwards, who has covered the firearms industry for decades, said there is no one factor driving the sales decline.
“I suspect there are a variety of reasons why sales are trending down, from inflation putting a pinch on consumers’ discretionary spending to a lack of any imminent gun control bills moving through Congress,” Edwards, editor of Bearing Arms, told The Reload. “The prospect of new gun laws has typically led to increased sales in the past.”
Last year saw the passage of new federal gun restrictions for the first time in decades, but also the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen. The Bruen decision has led to various gun restrictions being deemed unconstitutional and likely lessened the concerns of some prospective buyers. It may be tempering concerns over new restrictions coming in the near future.
But the 2024 campaign could bring those concerns back to the forefront because of President Joe Biden’s aggressive pursuit of new gun restrictions, especially on popular guns like the AR-15.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if sales start to increase as we get closer to Election Day next year,” Edwards said.
Oliva said he also expected sales to rise as hunting season approaches in the fall since the summer is usually a low point for the industry. But he agreed with Edwards that the election season will probably have an even more profound effect.
“I think once we start to get back into where people are paying attention to what’s being talked about on the campaign trail, those things so we typically see in presidential election years, firearm sales will rise because of people’s concerns about not being able to buy the firearm their choosing,” Oliva said.
While National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) data does not represent the specific quantity of guns sold, the figures do reflect market conditions. NICS checks are required for the large majority of gun purchases, including nearly all that are made through licensed gun dealers.
However, they are not required on used sales between non-dealers in most states, which means they don’t capture all transactions. On the other hand, NICS checks are also used for concealed carry permits and other non-sales purposes.
Still, the data is widely considered the most reliable gauge of gun sales in America. And NSSF’s analysis removes some of the checks that aren’t directly related to sales in an attempt to make the numbers more reliable.
“The adjusted NICS data were derived by subtracting out NICS purpose code permit checks and permit rechecks used by states for CCW permit application checks as well as checks on active CCW permit databases. NSSF started subtracting permit rechecks in February 2016,” the group’s report said.
Despite the overall decline, June was the 47th month in a row in which adjusted background checks exceeded 1 million. It was also still above every other June from before President Joe Biden took office, except 2016. Oliva said that was evidence gun sales are likely going to remain above the levels seen before the 2020 spike.
“What we typically see if we look at the historical pattern of it,” he said, “when we come off of those highs, and we hit that floor, that new floor is always higher than the ceiling was before.”
Stephen Gutowski contributed to this report.