Americans bought near-record numbers of guns in July, according to industry estimates, continuing a sales boom experts say is unprecedented.
Gun stores sold 2 million firearms in July, according to estimates from Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a year-over-year increase of 134.6%. SAAF estimates that the bulk of those sales were handgun purchases — continuing a monthslong trend.
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System processed more than 3.6 million firearm background checks in July, 1.6 million more than July 2019. The NICS system processed 3.9 million in June, an all-time monthly high.
Background checks don’t serve as an exact measure of gun sales, as some states run checks on gun permit-holders. Still, they often serve as a proxy and SAAF uses them to inform its estimates.
While gun sales have been trending up all year, they appear to have leapt in March, likely on fears of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact, and continued as protests and unrest spread across the nation. Spikes in gun sales are also often tied to politics, so it’s no surprise that gun sales have risen in a presidential election year as former Vice President Joe Biden’s popularity has grown in polls.
For example, there was a spike in 2016, as well, when many gun owners assumed Hillary Clinton would win the election and enact stricter gun control measures.
“Our estimates suggest that the market for the first seven months of 2020 now has nearly matched that of the entire year of 2019,” Jurgen Brauer, SAAF chief economist, said in a release.
Phillip Levine, a Wellesley College economic professor, co-authored a study that showed accidental gun deaths jumped after a similar surge in sales following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
“A lot of times when when people purchase new firearms, they're not quite as careful with them in terms of storing them,” he said.
And with this month’s numbers, he says the 2020 surge has surpassed the post-Sandy Hook boom.
“It's not obvious that that's going to stop anytime soon,” he said.
Levine worries more accidents will also follow this year’s skyrocketing sales.
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.