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Gun Sales, Background Checks Still Surging

According to one industry estimate, Americans are buying more handguns—and many are buying a gun for the first time.
According to one industry estimate, Americans are buying more handguns—and many are buying a gun for the first time.

Gun sales continued to surge in April amid pandemic fears, marking the second consecutive month the industry has seen a massive year-over-year spike.

Americans bought nearly 1.8 million guns last month, according to estimates from Small Arms Analytics, which tracks the industry. Though that’s fewer sales than in March, it’s a 71% increase over sales estimates for the same time last year.

The FBI says it performed 2,911,128 background checks in its NICS database during April. That’s down from 3.7 million in March, but 600,000 more than it performed in April 2019.

Many states run background checks to test gun permit-holders, so background checks cannot be equated 1:1 to gun sales.

Jurgen Brauer, co-founder of Small Arms Analytics, said Americans continued a shift toward buying more handguns last month.

“(That) is most likely due to continued fears of what the COVID-19 crisis may mean at the individual level for personal protection, safety and security,” Brauer said.

Despite two months of strong sales, the long-term outlook for the gun industry is still unclear. Brauer said many of the recent purchases are by first-time gun owners, potentially creating a new market. But the financial devastation caused by coronavirus means many Americans will also have less money to spend.

Research shows a higher availability of guns could lead to an increase in violent crime, like homicide. Advocates and public health experts have also warned of the increased risk of domestic violence and suicide.

Editor’s note May 5, 2020, 1:40 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify Jurgen Brauer’s role at Small Arms Analytics.

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.

Copyright 2021 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.

Heath Druzin is Boise State Public Radio’s Guns & America reporter, part of a national collaboration between 10 public radio stations examining all aspects of firearms in America.

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