Americans bought millions of guns in March, apparently driven by fears of the societal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retailers sold more than 2.5 million firearms in March, a year-over-year increase of 85%, according to estimates from industry research firm Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF).
The FBI says it performed 3,740,688 background checks in its NICS database during the month of March, over 1 million more background checks than it performed in March 2019.
Many states run background checks to test gun permit-holders, so background checks cannot be equated one-to-one to gun sales.
“Ordinarily, we will have a shock that will raise or lower the demand over several months or maybe a year, but not in a single month,” said Jurgen Brauer, SAAF’s chief economist. “So it is quite unprecedented.”
Handguns accounted for a huge jump in purchases. Estimated handgun sales increased 91.1% year-over-year, versus a 73.6% jump in long-gun sales, according to the SAAF data.
As the coronavirus spread in March and more states ordered residents to stay at home, gun stores all over the country reported high sales volumes. Some even had to limit purchasing because they were running out of certain models.
“So [the sales estimates are] utterly unusual,” Brauer said. “By the same token, it was also utterly anticipated.”
Some gun dealers reported seeing new gun buyers in March, interested in purchasing their first firearm. That, Brauer says, could ripple through the gun industry for years.
“It’s now possible that at least a proportion of first-time buyers will be converted into repeat buyers,” Brauer said, “so that there may be a higher base of firearms owners in the years to come.”
Guns & America’s Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this story. Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.