NSSF: More than 5-million first-time gun buyers in 2021

AP Photo/Morgan Lee

The nationwide run on guns and ammunition that was sparked by the first COVID shutdown orders in March of 2020 and fueled by the riots, looting, and chaos in dozens of American cities after the death of George Floyd in May of that year has never fully subsided in the months since. Ammunition is still tough to find, and while the availability of firearms has improved a bit over the past year, it’s still awfully tough for a lot of gun shops to get everything they’d like to offer to customers.

As for the customers themselves, many of the folks walking into gun stores these days are walking out as brand new gun owners. In fact, the National Shooting Sports Foundation now estimates that at least 5.4-million Americans purchased a firearm for the very first time in 2021; down considerably from the estimated 8.4-million first-time buyers in 2020, but still well above pre-2020 trends.

Nearly 30 percent of all firearm purchases last year went to new gun owners, based on NSSF’s retailer surveys and adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) background checks.

That figure is a 10 percent decrease from the 40 percent of first-time gun buyers revealed in similar surveys in 2020. More than 21 million background checks were conducted for the sale of a firearm then, with over 8.4 million of those estimated to be for those buying a firearm for the first time.

“We welcome these new gun owners to the greater community of law-abiding Americans who choose to own a firearm for lawful purposes, including self-defense, recreational target shooting and hunting,” said Joe Bartozzi, NSSF President and CEO. “The surveys revealed that new gun owners are continuing to embrace their Second Amendment rights and nearly half of them are seeking out professional training. These trends show that not only is there still a strong interest in gun ownership but also that these new gun owners are interested in learning more about the safe and responsible handling, use and storage of firearms.”

Other key findings from NSSF’s data:

  • More than 33% of first-time gun buyers in 2021 were women
  • 44% of firearm retailers saw an increase in African-American gun buyers
  • Nearly 40% of firearm retailers reported an increase in Hispanic customers
  • Just under half of all first-time gun buyers inquired about training, and 43% signed up for training offered by the retailer

The survey of retailers indicates that about 23% of first-time buyers came back to the same store to purchase additional firearms at some point during the year. The top age demographic for all gun buyers, not just first-timers, were those between the ages of 31 and 40 (27% of total sales), with those 30-and-younger (22.2%) and those between the ages of 41-50 (21.7%) not far behind. Gun buyers over the age of 60 made up the smallest cohort of consumers, accounting for just 8.1% of total sales.

Interestingly, the breakdown of gun buyers by age largely tracks with support for new gun control laws in recent polls, which have seen the strongest approval among older Americans even as support overall has declined. Despite the media trumpeting a new generation of anti-gun activists in the wake of the shootings in Parkland, Florida, support for new gun control laws has declined substantially among younger Americans over the past two or three years, and the NSSF data suggests that many of them aren’t just opposed to new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, but are exercising that right for themselves for the first time in their lives. Now we need to work on getting these new gun owners to become new Second Amendment activists as well, because their newly-exercised rights are under attack by anti-gun politicians from coast-to-coast.