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Are U.S. Gun Sales Crashing or Still Sky High? That Depends.

2021 Gun Sales
Image: Creative Commons.

Those subscribing to the “glass half empty” school of thought were quick to point out that October saw a significant decrease in year-over-year sales of firearms. In fact, the month saw a decrease of 20.1 percent relative to October 2020, and most industries would see that as a worrying sign.

However, a little context is required. October 2020’s gun sales were 1.9 million, and were among the highest of the entire year, so a drop was almost to be expected.

According to data from the Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting (SAAF), October 2021 still saw firearms unit sales of about 1.53 million, which was also a 31.8 percent increase over the pre-pandemic October 2019 levels. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry lobby association, had slightly more conservative estimates, and it found that sales were slightly above 1.4 million.

Either way, last month was the second strongest October on record, while 2021’s sales have still remained impressive.

“The annual total so far of nearly 15.2 million background checks is putting 2021 on the path to being the second strongest year on record,” Mark Oliva, spokesman for the NSSF and direct of public affairs, told the NRA’s Shooting Illustrated. “It is currently behind only the record-shattering 21 million background checks witnessed in 2020 and the 15.7 million background checks conducted during 2016.”

It is unlikely that 2021 will top the record-setting sales that 2020 saw, but election years often see higher sales – especially if a candidate campaigns on calls for gun control, which Joe Biden certainly did. Moreover, the pandemic and the wave of violent protests, along with calls to “defund the police,” spurred many to buy a gun including first-time buyers. Last year saw the highest sales to first-time buyers – a segment of the market that is unlikely to be repeat customers.

Yet, even with those facts to consider, 2021 will be a strong year for the industry.

“If the pattern of recent months were to hold for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons (November and December), one would expect firearms unit sales to reach a year-end total of nearly 20 million firearms, far above the previous non-pandemic high of 16.7 million reached in 2016,” said SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer.

The firearms industry must still contend with supply chain disruptions, which the White House has been unable to resolve, and could be the Grinch that steals this year’s Christmas for many. Yet, even as there are raw-material supply chain struggles that have impacted ammunition makers, the gun makers are doing everything they can to meet demand into the holiday season.

Oliva explained, “This continued and sustained pace of background checks for the sale of a firearm, that is climbing in the closing months of 2021, shows the resiliency of the firearm manufacturers to meet this sustained, high-level demand and the personal interest by the American public to participate in the exercise of their God-given Second Amendment rights.”

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 Amazon.com.

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

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