According to The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) nearly 30%, or 5.4 million of the 18.5 million firearms purchased in the United States in 2021, went to first time gun owners. This number is down slightly from 2020’s record breaking gun sales numbers that saw 40%, or 8.4 million of the 21 million total firearms sold, going to first timers. Retailers report that 23% of customers who bought their first gun in 2020 returned to purchase another in 2021, and that nearly half of first time buyers inquired about professional firearms training, meaning many first time buyers quickly became enthusiasts who are serious about gun safety and self-defense.
For decades, gun control groups have attempted to paint gun enthusiasts as “rednecks” living in rural areas, but the data suggests that this is not the case. The NSSF survey found that 33% of first time gun buyers in 2021 were women, and that the number of African Americans purchasing firearms increased by 44%. Hispanic Americans also increased their gun purchases by 40% in 2021. Mark Olivia, NSSF Director of Public Affairs, notes: “Gun owners no longer fit into the tiny little boxes gun control groups wish to put us in. Today’s gun owner is younger, more urban, and more representative of the different demographic groups we see across America.”
The surge in gun sales in recent years is not confined to “red states” or areas with lenient gun ownership laws. Michigan and New Jersey top the list of states that saw the largest increase in firearm sales from January 2020 to January 2021 with 306% and 248% increases, respectively. Even Washington D.C, which has some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, saw an increase in gun purchases of over 200% during the same time period. Year over year, blue-state Minnesota and red-state Alaska saw nearly identical increases in gun sales, over 100%.
Historically, gun sales have spiked amid times of national unrest, and during election years, especially when prominent candidates endorse increased gun control measures. 2020 fit that bill from all angles; state governments issued draconian and constitutionally dubious lockdown orders, and then-candidate Joe Biden pledged to “defeat the National Rifle Association” and ban the sale of “assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” via both executive fiat and though the legislature. On the campaign trail, both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pledged to enact mandatory government buybacks of the AR-15, the nation’s most popular sporting rifle.
The summer of 2020 saw unprecedented rioting across major American cities following the police killing of unarmed black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis, MN. All told, at least 25 Americans died, and the riots caused over two billion dollars in property damage across the country. Political unrest continued into 2021 when, on January 6th, a group of around 2,000 supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building. The incident resulted in at least 725 arrests.
Rising crime rates are another factor in the recent spike in gun sales, homicides in major American cities are up 44% from 2019 to 2021, on average, and carjackings in the nation’s capital have skyrocketed nearly 74%.
Economic factors are in play as well. The U.S. Economy was strong going into the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple rounds of stimulus checks from the federal government put unexpected cash in the pockets of Americans. The exorbitant government spending of the last two years, however, has increased consumer prices across the board, as inflation currently sits at a 39 year high.
Gun sales did slip slightly in January 2022, with an estimated 1.2 million firearms sold. While this puts the country on track for a lower annual gun sales number than the previous two years, January marked the 30th consecutive month with over a million guns sold in the United States. Mark Olivia, speaking to Stephen Gutowski of The Reload, notes: “The firearm industry is coming off two record-setting years of firearm purchases and sustained production to meet that increased demand, while everyone is looking for what the ‘new’ normal will be coming off those outsized years of background checks for the purchase of a gun, January’s figure of nearly 1.2 million shows that America’s demand for lawful gun ownership continues at a healthy and sustainable pace.”
Brady Leonard is a musician, political strategist, and podcaster based in Toledo, Ohio. The No Gimmicks Podcast airs Mondays and Wednesdays at 1pm EST, wherever podcasts are found. Follow him on Twitter @bradyleonard