More than 23M firearms sold, over 21M gun background checks conducted in 2020


More than 21 million gun background checks were conducted in 2020 – up 60% from 2019 and over 34% from the previous record set in 2016 – with nearly 23 million firearms sold last year, experts and trade groups said Tuesday.

Last year was a record-smashing year for gun sales, with nearly 23 million units purchased, according to data compiled by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF). Meanwhile, the FBI conducted 21,083,643 firearm background checks over the course of 2020, compared to the 15,700,471 checks done in 2016, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) said in a press release.

There were 13,199,172 gun background checks completed in 2019, according to the NSSF, a group that represents gunmakers. Gun background checks are indicative of sales trends, though don’t translate directly to the number of unit sales. For example, someone can buy multiple firearms at once and have only one background check conducted.

The year wrapped with a milder surge in gun sales than in prior months, with December seeing a 24% increase year-over-year, the SAAF said. In comparison, November saw an increase of 49% compared to the same month in 2019. And 65% more guns were sold in October 2020 year-over-year, the SAAF said.

The NSSF estimated that more than 8.4 million people bought guns for the first time in 2020.

Marc Oliva, a spokesperson for the gun trade group, said the fact that 21 million background checks were conducted “shows just how much value the American public places in their God-given Second Amendment rights.”

He said the surge in gun ownership 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,” he said. “That’s a testament to the determination of the American worker that makes our freedoms possible.”