NSSF: Gun Background Checks Up 60%, Set New Record In 2020

We already knew that 2020 was going to go down as the best year in history in terms of gun sales, but the FBI has now confirmed that fact with the release of its December background check figures. According to the agency, the National Instant Check System processed a total of 39,695,315 background checks over the course of 2020, which is a 40% increase over the 28.3 million checks performed in 2019.


Now, a couple of caveats. The raw number of NICS checks doesn’t equal the number of guns sold in the U.S. The background check system is used not only for retail firearm sales, but also for permit checks in a number of states. Additionally, if more than one firearm was sold at a time, there would still be just one background check performed, so the NICS figures aren’t a perfect equivalent to gun sales.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, however, takes a monthly look at the NICS figures and does its best to separate out the number of checks that were performed on retail gun sales, and the organization also reports that 2020 was a record-setter with more than 21-million background checks performed specifically on gun sales. As Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the NSSF stated today:

This record year surpassed 2019’s totals by 60 percent and the previous record of 2016 by 34 percent. NSSF estimates that more than 8.4 million people legally purchased a firearm for the first time in 2020.

This occurred under the most challenging of circumstances. Law-abiding Americans demanded to exercise their right to lawfully purchase, keep and bear arms. Some governors, mayors and even Members of Congress actively stood in the way of that and didn’t relent until faced with court action. At the same time, workers in these firearm and ammunition factories, distributors, retailers and ranges made adjustments to keep their workforce safe and protected from infection while keeping pace with the demand of the American public. That’s a testament to the determination of the American worker that makes our freedoms possible.


Oliva notes that the sales figures could have been higher, if not for the fact that most distributers have little to no inventory left in stock.

“Retail shelves are still sparse, telling us there is still a strong demand and that elevated levels of firearm sales could continue for some time,” Oliva says.

In addition to 2020 being the busiest year on record for firearm sales, the month of December was also the busiest month in NICS history. The system processed 3,937,066 background checks just last month, narrowly surpassing June of 2020 for the most checks in a one-month period. The NSSF-adjusted estimates are that 1,906,916 firearms were sold last month, which is a 22.7% increase over December 2019.

Historically, we’ve generally seen a dip in gun sales in January following the holiday rush, but there are no signs of a slowdown at the moment. In fact with political divides deepening and continued concern over rising violent crime and social unrest, I suspect that January of 2021 will be the busiest start to a new year in the history of the National Instant Check System.

As of right now January 2020 has that distinction, with about 2.7-million background checks performed. Based on previous trends, including the fact that we’ve had more than 3-million checks per month for seven of the last eight months, I don’t foresee a huge slowdown in the number of guns sold or the number of Americans purchasing a firearm for the very first time. The numbers will likely decline compared to December, but I expect them to be well above the figure of 2.7-million from January of last year as Americans continue to embrace their Second Amendment rights amidst the political turmoil and uncertainty.


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