The total number of 2021 firearm purchases processed through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was the second highest on record. Only 2020’s figure exceeds that volume in a system that began operation back in November of 1998.
Roughly 18,515,188 gun purchases last year resulted in a NICS check, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF), using slightly different methodology, said the total came in closer to 20 million. By comparison, the organizations estimate 2020 numbers are somewhere around 21 million and 23 million, respectively.
“The estimated U.S. firearms unit sales for calendar year 2021 held up better than might have been expected at the beginning of the year,” said SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer in a press release earlier this month. “Whereas 2020 saw many industries’ output lifted in dramatic ways—not just the firearms industry’s output—unit sales for many of those industries have fallen farther back to more conventional sales levels than have the unit sales of the U.S. firearms industry, which instead has experienced only a fairly minor downward unit sales adjustment of 12.5 percent.”
The back-to-back record-setting years dropped the previous record holder, 2016, to third place in annual gun sales. That Presidential election year saw an estimated 15.7 million firearms sold in the United States.
December firearm sales, according to SAAF calculations, were roughly 1.9 million. The figure reflects a drop of 6.1 percent when compared to the same period in 2020.
The numbers are far from precise, although most consider them a relatively accurate gun-sales barometer. They do not reflect private transfers in many areas of the country, and some regions do not require holders of valid concealed carry permits—who have already undergone the check and have it verified periodically—to undergo the redundant process to make a firearm purchase. The total reported FBI NICS volume is clouded further by including those processed for permit applications, renewals, routine verifications and other administrative duties.