2023 Gun Sales Fourth Highest in History

December was the 53rd straight month with 1 million or more background checks.

posted on January 11, 2024
NICS checks
Photo courtesy of NSSF

The number of firearms sold last year was the fourth highest on record at roughly 15,848,055, according to a National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) estimate. Only 2020, with 21 million, 2021 at 18,515,188 and 2022 (16,425,484) beat last year’s total in a record-keeping system that began when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) launched on Nov. 30, 1998. 

Last month’s total firearm sales were roughly 1,775,834, reflecting an increase of 28,328 (1.6 percent) when compared to the same period in 2022. December was also the 53rd month in a row in which more than 1-million-gun purchases were made.

The top three yearly records were set during the height of Covid-19 lockdowns and widespread social unrest. The pace eased off the plateau early in 2023, but the trend reversed in October 2023. NSSF reports that sales for the fourth quarter of last year sales were up 4.6 percent compared to the same period in 2022 (4,742,029 vs. 4,532,341).

Gunbroker.com’s monthly list of hot sellers indicates the SIG Sauer P365 was the most popular semi-auto pistol choice in December. The Heritage Roughrider led the way in revolvers and Ruger’s 10/22 was top in semi-auto rifles. In bolt-action rifles Ruger’s American claimed first place and lever-action fans preferred Henry Big Boys. The Benelli M4 and Mossberg 590 led the charge in semi-auto and pump-action shotguns, respectively.

NSSF bases its gun sales estimates on the FBI’s raw NICS numbers, which includes processing carry permit applicants, renewals and other administrative use of the system. Most are easily backed out, but there are other factors that prevent any calculation from approaching 100-percent accuracy.

Those with a valid carry permit in 24 states, for example, are not required to undergo a redundant NICS background check—which was conducted during their application or renewal—when purchasing a firearm. NSSF’s figures do not include any estimate of those transactions, rendering its monthly sales report a reflection of the industry’s overall health.


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