First-Time Gun Buyers Drive Record-Breaking US Sales

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Semi-automatics for sale at a British gun show. Photo by Ashley Butte via Flickr

Prompted by the pandemic, civil unrest, and fears of Congress passing new gun control legislation in the wake of a wave of mass shootings over the past year, first-time gun owners from all walks of life, who feel that they must take control of their family’s protection, are helping to push record levels of gun sales for what looks like the second year in a row, reports NPR.

FBI data show that six of the top 10 days for instant background checks — which are required by the federal government before a licensed firearms retailer can sell a gun — were last month alone.

It reported that the week of March 15 to 21 was the top week for FBI background checks since 1998, completing 1,218,002 total firearms checks. In January, more than four million background checks were processed, compared to the previous January when 2.7 million were done. And in February 2021, 3.4 million checks were reported; In February 2020, 2.8 million were completed. During the entire month of March 2021, the FBI completed nearly 4.7 million background checks compared to the same month the year before, when the agency reported 3.7 million checks.

A 2020 survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a trade association for gun retailers, ranges and manufacturers that lobbies Congress, said gun shop owners reported 40 percent of customers were first time gun buyers from Jan – April 2020.

Most often, the first timers are purchasing a semiautomatic handgun, outpacing the second-most purchased firearm, shotguns, by a 2 to 1 margin, according to NSSF. Burbank, California-based Redstone Firearms owner Geneva Solomon, California’s only Black gun store owner, claims that a recent increase in the number of Black women who have come into the store to buy a gun stems from the strained relations between the Black community and police, and a real fear of dialing 911 in emergencies.

Meanwhile, the top weeks in FBI background checks that occurred this March followed high-profile mass shootings and political and social unrest. Despite the demand, gun shops aren’t recording a massive financial windfall due to pandemic-induced inventory issues, such as shipping delays, and continued demand. Manufacturers have  also focused on pushing out just the most popular gun types to fulfill orders: semiautomatic 9mm pistols and other handguns.

In a related finding, a survey conducted by researchers at the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center and Violence Prevention Research Program, at the University of California Davis, found that increased worry about being targeted by  multiple types of violence during the pandemic led to an increase in firearm acquisition and in unsecure storage practice of loaded firearms.  The survey, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in January was based on a sample of 2,820 California adults.

“The findings of this study suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to lessen its spread have compounded the public health burden of violence,” the researchers concluded.

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