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Americans Keep Buying (Imported) Guns in Record Numbers

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

It should come as a surprise to no one, but 2020 broke numerous records when it came to firearm sales and background checks. Driving the unprecedented sales of firearms were first-time gun buyers, who actually accounted for 40 percent of all purchases, or roughly 8.4 million units sold – while other reports suggest the actual number may have been as high as 11 million new buyers.

Moreover, for 2020, the number of queries that went through the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was just under 40 million in 2020, the highest number since the agency began keeping records. The system is used for gun sales and transfers, as well as for suppressor sales and concealed carry permits.

While sales have begun to dip a bit this year, with hunting season just days away and the holiday season coming up fast, 2021 could still break last year’s records.

Firearms Imports

The global supply chain has certainly seen better times, and right now the situation is looking bleak for the holiday season when it comes to toys and consumer electronics, but last year one product saw a notable increase in imports: firearms. According to the newly released Firearms Commerce in the United States, the annual report issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the importation of firearms also hit new records in 2020.

In fact, there were more than 6.8 million firearms imported into the country last year – up from just 3.9 million a year prior. A large number of the firearms came from Turkey, which account for nearly 1.5 million of those firearms, followed by Austria at 1.3 million and Brazil at around $1 million.

According to data published from Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting earlier this year, other top countries for imports were Croatia, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic and China.

“Over the past several decades firearms and ammunition imports have come to play an important role in the U.S. industry’s competitive landscape and firearms brand names such as Beretta, Glock, Sig Sauer, and Taurus have become well-established in the U.S. market,” explained SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer earlier this year when his report was released.

Ammunition imports were also strong in 2020, with some 3.455 billion rounds imported into the United States in 2020. Russia had been the top exporter to the United States with some 765 million units. Russia was followed by Mexico, Italy, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Serbia, South Korea, Hungary, Israel and the Philippines.

Russian Ammo Banned

There have been significant shortfalls in ammunition supplies this year, with the global supply chain being one factor. However, the issue could get worse as the Biden administration in August announced a ban on the importation of ammunition from Russia.

“Pursuant to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (the CBW Act), the United States will impose a second round of sanctions on the Russian Federation over its use of a ‘Novichok’ nerve agent in the August 2020 poisoning of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny,” that U.S. Department of State explained in a fact sheet.

As the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action reported, this policy prohibits the importation of both firearms and ammunition, but Russian firearms were already heavily restricted under past executive policies, so this action by the Biden Administration is really just about a ban on Russian made ammunition.

It is likely to impact American shooters, as well as those who count on their firearms for personal defense, while doing very little to actually punish Russia.

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.