Americans bought about 19.9 million firearms last year, down 12.5% from 2020, according to one industry estimate — but 2021 was still the industry’s second-busiest year on record, as politics and public health continue to drive interest in owning guns.
Gun purchases didn’t catch up to 2020’s record-breaking 22.8 million sales, but easily surpassed the pre-pandemic record of 16.7 million in 2016, according to Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting, which uses FBI background check data to estimate sales.
Last year, the firearms industry sold about six guns for every 100 Americans.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation — an industry trade group — estimates 18.5 million sales last year, its second-highest annual figure, behind 2020’s 21 million sales. Meanwhile, the FBI ran 38.9 million background checks in 2021 and a record-breaking 39.7 million in 2020, though the FBI’s data doesn’t correspond perfectly with purchases because not all background checks are associated with individual sales of new guns.
Gun sales soared to unprecedented levels in 2020, exceeding the previous year by nearly 64%, according to Small Arms Analytics and Forecasting. Many observers think politics and Covid-19 are key reasons for this surge: The pandemic — and the economic devastation it wrought — fueled safety worries in early 2020, purchases remained high during summer 2020’s nationwide protests, and sales regularly spike ahead of presidential elections if firearm enthusiasts fear stricter gun control measures. Last year, Americans’ worries about Covid-19 partially waned and President Joe Biden’s calls for more stringent gun laws largely went unanswered, possibly tempering interest in firearms. Regardless, the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates U.S. firearm stores sold guns to around 3.2 million first-time purchasers in the first half of 2021, suggesting demand hasn’t faded yet.