21-million firearms sold. 8.4-million new gun owners. 2020 may have been a craptastic year in most regards, but for the firearms industry it was a record-setter. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we sit down for a conversation with the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Larry Keane to crunch those numbers and talk about what they mean for the fight for our Second Amendment rights in the year ahead.
One of the more interesting takeaways from the discussion with Keane is the fact that not only did we see an eye-popping number of new gun owners, but that the percentage of gun sales to first-time buyers was far higher than in previous years. The NSSF estimates that about 40% of all gun purchases in 2020 were new gun owners. Compare that to 2016, which until last year was the busiest on record for the firearms industry. Back then, Keane tells me, about 25% of all gun sales were to first-time purchasers.
What changed? Maybe a better question is what didn’t change last year. We had a pandemic and the government-imposed shutdowns, which led to the first sales spike of 2020, but even before that had abated we saw another run on guns thanks to the riots and violence that rocked many cities in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Throw in a presidential election featuring the most anti-gun candidate in U.S. history, and it’s no surprise that gun sales set a record.
In fact, Keane says he’s convinced that the only reason we didn’t see more guns sold last year is that there weren’t any more to sell. Inventory was wiped out during the first run on guns back in March, and ever since manufacturers have simply been trying their best to keep up with demand. Firearms aren’t sitting on shelves in distributors’ warehouses any more, and they’re not staying in gun stores very long either.
The more than 8-million new gun owners have already had an impact on the availability of firearms and ammunition, but will they make a difference in the political fight over our Second Amendment rights as well? Keane is optimistic, and tells me that Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden are foolish if they think that these recent additions to the ranks of armed Americans are going to roll over and embrace their anti-gun agenda.
I think we may have already seen the impact that these new gun owners have had. Remember, Democrats and gun control groups alike were convinced that not only would they be able to add to their numbers in Congress, but they had grand designs on taking control of statehouses in places like Minnesota, Iowa, and Texas. Their dreams turned into a nightmare on Election Day when they failed to capture a single legislative chamber, instead losing ground across the country. I’m convinced that new gun owners played a pretty big role in turning the Blue Wave into a trickle, and some Democrats in states like Virginia are already quietly walking back their embrace of sweeping gun bans.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the influx of Americans exercising their right to keep and bear arms is going to have political ramifications. In the short term, our voices will be even louder in pushing back against unconstitutional infringements on our Second Amendment rights, but in the long term these new gun owners may very well cause some Democrats to rethink their support of many gun control laws. The hardcore true believers will stay on course, but the far greater number of politicians who are more concerned about getting re-elected than disarming their fellow Americans may decide that they’d rather talk more about criminal justice and policing reforms than banning guns owned by tens of millions of voters.
For now, anyway, Second Amendment activists are starting the new year with many new allies, and Keane says that he and other industry experts don’t expect a slowdown in sales anytime soon. The factors that led to the Great Gun Run of 2020 are still with us, and as long as the economic uncertainty and unrest remain a part of our daily lives, we should expect even more of our friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers to decide that maybe owning a gun for self-defense isn’t such a bad idea after all.