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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

U.S. Gun Sales Last Month Crushed Records

Glock 17
Glock 17. Image Credit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin

U.S gun sales hit a new record in 2020, driven by roughly 8.5 million first time buyers but also by fears brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, anti-police protests, and the election of President Joe Biden. The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which has been used as a gauge to track sales of firearms since it was adopted in 1998, saw a 40 percent increase from the previous year.

U.S. Gun Sales: A Historic Spike 

In total there were more than 21 million background checks conducted last year, compared to just over 13 million in 2019, and while there has been a steady increase yearly of around 8 percent, 2020 saw that significant jump. According to data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), while December saw a 24 percent increase in year-over-year sales, just after the election in November sales jumped by 49 percent from the prior year.

Now it appears that 2021 is off to a strong start, and the NSSF reported that January saw a year-over-year increase of 75.2 percent, and the FBI processed more than 4.3 million background checks – a 60 percent increase over January 2020.

Could the Numbers Be Even Bigger?

Some industry analysts, including those at Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, estimated the sales in January were even higher and hit 2.2 million guns, a year-over-year increase of 79 percent.

What is also notable with these numbers is that these only tracks sales conducted by licensed gun sellers, not private sales that can occur at gun shows. Moreover, as The Washington Examiner reported, “it also doesn’t include thousands of gun purchases in states where the check isn’t required.”

As also reported, some states have seen an astronomical increase in sales – including Michigan (the home state of this reporter), which NSSF-data found had seen January sales that were 264.4 percent higher than January 2020. That accounted for an additional 57,016 checks over the same period.

What Guns Are Selling?

While the type of firearms sold isn’t widely reported, it likely included a lot of AR-15s and similar semi-automatic modern sporting rifles – the types of firearms that then-candidate Joe Biden said he would look to ban or otherwise require gun owners to register. That would require buyers to go through the complex and lengthy process required for National Firearms Act (NFA) items such as automatic weapons including machine guns, suppressors, and short barrel rifles and shotguns.

In addition to the surge in firearms sales, there has also been a marked increase in ammunition sales – driven by fears by the Democrat-controlled White House along with House and Senate could push new legislation that limits the amount that can be purchased.

This increase in sales should have been expected. It is actually typical for gun and ammo sales to spike when a Democrat wins the Presidential race, and the election and re-election of Barrack Obama in 2008 and 2012 respectively saw a marked increase in gun sales. This time the surge has been amplified by the pandemic, civil unrest, and a new wave of gun control rhetoric.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. concerned

    February 4, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    Interesting article. I will ask that we stop spreading the “gun show loophole” narrative. If you buy from a gunshow you will be required to have a background check(FFL) just as if you bought from any other FFL. If you mean private sales then leave it at that.

  2. pop seal

    February 5, 2021 at 9:02 pm

    Larger quantities of ammunition are being delivered twice a week to one of the big franchise sporting goods stores hear my house. Could be that production is beginning to catch up with demand.

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