U.S. gun sales in March surged 25% to 4,691,738. This makes it among the largest single month since sales figures started to be recorded in 1998.
The increase is part of a trend. Gun sales in the United States rose 40% last year to 39,695,315. That represents the high water mark in annual gun sales since the current record-keeping system went into effect. Increases by state in March varied substantially, as has been the case for years.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks gun sales and publishes a list of how many are handled as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Each month, the figures are reported by state. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies as a buyer. People who are excluded usually have criminal records. Of the more than 310 million checks that have been done since 1998, there have only been 1.5 million denials. Therefore, the data is the best proxy for U.S. gun sales available.
Growing civil unrest may have prompted people to buy guns for personal and family protection, many social scientists have posited, although this remains a matter of debate. Another theory is that chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is a major cause. A new UC Davis School of Medicine study about fear of violence reports: “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated persistent structural, economic, and social inequities in the conditions that contribute to violence and its consequences.”
Who bought these guns? CBS News pointed out that over 5 million people were first-time gun buyers last year. CNN reported a sharp rise in sales to Black Americans and women. “Sales to women are also up 40% through September when compared with the same period last year,” the news network pointed out.
The March increase should not be taken as unusual, nor should the rise in gun sales from 2019 to 2020 be viewed as an anomaly. The number of gun sales has increased most years since 1999. Sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011 and 10 million in 2006. In 1999, the first full year the FBI kept data, sales totaled 9,138,123.
Gun sales, based on the FBI measure, reached 236,295 on March 17, the highest single day on record since the agency began to keep records. The second highest day on record was March 30 at 220,655. That was followed by March 25 at 212,008. Out of the top 10 days for gun sales, another three were last month: March 18 (209,332), March 29 (208,022) and March 19 (195,983). The largest week on record for gun sales was March 15 through March 21, at 1,201,022.
Click here to see every state ranked by gun sales in March.
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