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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

There Are 470,000,000 Guns In America (And Sales Keep Going Up)

Glock 19X
Glock19X (YouTube Screenshot)

March weather has long been described as “In like a lion, out like a lamb,” but for firearms retailers, sales may have roared like never before.

The total National Instant background Check System (NICS) checks for March of 2021 set an all-time record for the month – it was truly the king of months in terms of overall checks, which nearly reached 4.7 million.

That surpassed the record that had been set in January with more than 4.3 million checks. Keeping the trend going, December 2020 now ranks as the third-highest month at 3.94 million in total checks.

It should be noted that the numbers do reflect the expanded use of the NICS system for purposes beyond just firearms sales – and that included carry permits as well as carry permit rechecks. It should be noted that the number was still a significant jump from the NICS checks conducted a year earlier.

According to data from, sales may have actually dipped.

This has led to some confusion because as noted, background checks don’t equate to one-for-one gun sales. Based on the data from the report, just shy of two million guns were sold as estimated by the records in the NICS system, with most being pistols at just over 1.1 million.

While the overall sales may be down by some twenty percent from March 2020, it is still the second-highest March in terms of firearms sales.

Adding to the confusion is that the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF), which also tracks sales, really only follows the sales of “new” firearms. These figures don’t compare the number of firearms that may have changed hands via private sales at gun shows and indirect person-to-person sales.

Then there is the fact that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has certified twenty-five states to substitute various permits for NICS checks because the permit required an NICS check. Currently, around seven million Americans have those permits, which can be used instead of a traditional check. Firearm sales conducted by one of the permit holders are not included in the overall NICS firearms sales numbers.

As a result, it is impossible to know exactly how many firearms may have changed hands in March.

Critics of the system, including many lawmakers, have argued for a universal background check system that would track every firearm. But clearly it would be impossible even to know where to start as private sales that are legal in many states make it impossible to know who exactly may have purchased a firearm.

What is an absolute certainty is that at least two million additional firearms are now in private hands, joining the more than 470 million already owned across the United States. And even with a slight slowdown in sales in March, there is no reason to believe that 2021 won’t be another strong year in overall firearms sales.

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.