The Great Gun Run of 2020 continued on Black Friday, as the FBI’s National Instant Check System reported 186,645 checks over the course of the day. It’s the fourth-highest one-day total in the 21-year history of the NICS system, though the volume of checks was down about 8% compared to the day after Thanksgiving in 2019.
Black Friday traditionally has been one of the busiest for FBI analysts, but this has already been a shattering year in which the FBI has posted 32.1 million checks so far as the deadly virus has fueled public fear and President Donald Trump has repeatedly warned that Biden’s election would threaten gun rights.
Six times this year, the monthly check numbers surpassed 3 million, while the June number fell just short of 4 million.
There are a couple of factors that may have led to slightly smaller numbers for 2020 compared to last year. First, retail sales overall were dramatically lower this year as many consumers avoided crowded stores in favor of shopping online. According to Sensormatic Solutions, a retail tracker, in-person sales were down 52% compared to 2019’s Black Friday sales, but online sales topped $9-billion last Friday, which was a 22% increase over online traffic in 2019. Less foot traffic in retail locations, including big box retailers like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops, was likely a contributing factor to the decline in background checks last Friday.
While it is possible to purchase a firearm online, the gun will be sent to an FFL and the buyer will go through a background check before they can take physical possession of their purchase. In other words, online gun sales from Black Friday won’t show up in that day’s NICS numbers, because those background checks have yet to be performed. Instead, they’ll likely take place over the next couple of weeks as gun stores receive the guns ordered online and prepare to hand them over to customers.
Another contributing factor for the slight dip in background checks compared to Black Friday in 2019 is the fact that inventory at most gun stores is way down compared to what it looked like a year ago, when you could walk into most any gun store and have a wide selection of firearms to choose from. There’s simply not much in stock at the moment, and guns are being sold just as quickly as they get to a retailer in many cases.
Ultimately, sales of firearms on Black Friday were still incredibly strong, and the appetite for gun ownership among Americans continues unabated. I expect that we’ll continue to see a high volume of sales throughout December, and depending on the outcome of the January runoff elections in Georgia that will determine control of the U.S. Senate, we could even see another surge in the New Year.