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Fact Check: Did 2020 Gun Sales Really Decline By 20% In Kentucky?

2020 was by far the busiest year in the history of the firearms industry, with the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimating that more than 21-million guns were sold across the country. Most states saw both record high numbers of gun sales and concealed carry applications, but according to the website 247WallSt, one state in the union bucked the trend and actually saw their gun sales decline by a whopping 20-percent.

Gun sales only fell in one state last year. The figure stands out, particularly because gun sales in three states rose by over 100% in 2020. In every other state, they were higher by at least 20%.

Gun sales in Kentucky fell 19.2%, for some unexplained reason, from 4,120,892. By some measures in the state, gun permits rose, but the FBI data show a large erosion.

Gun purchase behavior continues to be poorly understood but hotly debated, which means a definitive answer won’t be forthcoming. Suffice it to say, the extent of the rise in most states and falloff in Kentucky begs a whole series of larger questions about why Americans would buy almost 40 million guns in one year.

There are a couple of issues here. First, Americans didn’t buy almost 40-million firearms last year. Not every check run through the NICS system is for a gun sale. Several states do permit checks, for example, and those have to be weeded out of the data to get a better idea of how many guns were sold. According to the NSSF-adjusted NICS figures, there were about 21-million background checks performed on firearm transfers in 2020.

Again, that’s still a record number, but it’s nowhere near the 39-million total NICS checks performed in 2020.

That’s not the biggest problem with 247WallSt’s data, however. According to the website, there were more than 3-million guns sold in the state in 2020? The reporter should have seen some red flags with those numbers, especially since they are so far above the numbers that the website reports for states with much larger populations, like Texas.

I reached out to the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s Mark Oliva to get the adjusted NICS figures for Kentucky, and there were nowhere near 3-million guns sold in the state last year. According to the firearms industry trade group, there were 434,129 background checks associated with a firearms transfer in Kentucky in 2020, and that number is actually far higher than the 269,127 NICS checks conducted on gun transfers in the state in 2019.

So how did 247WallSt come up with the figure of 3.3-million gun sales in Kentucky? They looked at the raw NICS data, which in Kentucky includes monthly checks of every active concealed carry license issued in the state.

The reason why the numbers dropped between 2019 and 2020 is simple; Kentucky became a Constitutional Carry state in 2019, which means that as long as you can legally own a handgun you can legally carry it without the need for a state-approved license.

As a result, some concealed carry holders who rarely travel beyond the state’s borders and don’t need or want to be able to carry in other states that recognize Kentucky’s carry license have let their licenses expire. Fewer licenses means fewer background checks conducted every month, which explains why the state’s NICS numbers declined by 20% in 2020 despite a rise in the number of NICS checks specifically performed on firearm transfers.

It turns out that Kentucky wasn’t the only state in the union to see a decline in gun sales last year, because no state had a decline. In all 50 states gun sales increased, and that trend looks to be continuing into the first month of 2021 as well. That’s the real story here, not some imagined rejection of the right to keep and bear arms by residents of the Bluegrass State.

I don’t think this was an example of media bias, by the way, just a lack of knowledge about the issues involved. Sadly, it’s still misinformation that needs to be corrected, and an example of just how important Second Amendment journalism really is. To that end, thanks for being a VIP member of Bearing Arms or a VIP Gold member of Townhall Media and helping to support our efforts to protect our right to keep and bear arms and to set the record straight when the media fails to do so.

Jul 31, 2021 8:30 AM ET