The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported a total of 3.22 million background checks in May 2021, meaning that 2021 is on track to break last year’s record for data partly based on gun purchases.
“Today our clients are buying anything that is not nailed down, and if it is nailed down some are bringing pry bars,” said Clay Ausley, who co-owns Fuquay Gun & Gold in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. “We are selling whatever we can get in stock and pretty much as quickly as it comes in, it typically goes right back out.”
The FBI tally for May 2021 is down 8% from 3.51 million in the prior month of April 2021. But it’s up 4% from 3.09 million in May 2020. So while the momentum of background checks is slowing from its frenetic pace earlier this year, it’s still well ahead of last year’s record performance.
“Year to date it has been our best year on record, surpassing 2020 which was a record breaker for my business and industry,” said Ausley.
The FBI data implies that Americans are continuing to buy firearms and ammunition at unprecedented rates. The background checks are conducted primarily when people are buying, or attempting to buy, guns at a gun store. While background checks are not the same as sales, the federal data serves as the closest nationwide proxy for gun sales.
Last year’s record annual tally was 39.69 million for all of 2020. The first five months of 2021 adds up to 19.18 million. That’s an increase of 25% compared to 15.24 million during the first five months of 2020. So even if the pace continues to slow throughout the year, 2021 could still easily trounce last year’s record for background checks.
“The continued record level of background checks for firearm sales demonstrates that Americans are voting with their wallets when it comes to firearm ownership and their Second Amendment rights,” said Mark Oliva, public affairs director for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry group.
Gun sales have surged since the coronavirus pandemic swept through America in March 2020, flattening the economy, killing hundreds of thousands of people and putting tens of millions of people out of work. But the gun and ammunition industry has been a bright spot in the economy. Americans continue to buy guns produced by Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger
The industry is fueled by at least eight million new gun buyers, according to data from the NSSF and recent comments from Jason Vanderbrink, president of ammunition for Vista Outdoor.
“These eight million new buyers, many of whom are women and people of color, bring true new demand to this market,” said Vanderbrink during Vista’s investor day online event on May 26.
Unprecedented demand for guns and ammunition has outstripped supply, leading to bare shelves in the ammunition aisles in gun stores around the country. Late last year, Vista acquired an ammo factory from bankrupt Remington to supply the intense demand, and the company plans to launch a monthly ammunition subscription service.
“When it comes to ammunition, we are still in a very difficult situation,” said Ausley. “Ammunition prices are the highest I have ever seen them and still nearly impossible to keep in stock. The firearms industry, much like everything else in 2021 has, experienced drastic price increases and we are getting more cost increases daily, but this has not slowed sales at all.”
Americans seeking self-protection are buying handguns, particularly compact semiautomatic pistols. The ever-popular Glock is difficult to keep in stock, according to gun retailers. Popular pistols include the M&P Shield EZ line of guns from Smith & Wesson, the LCP brand from Sturm, Ruger, the G3 brand from Taurus, the 320 brand from Sig Sauer and the 911 line from Springfield Armory.
Gun buyers are also trying to stay ahead of the gun control plans of President Joseph Biden, a Democrat and gun owner who intends to crack down on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He faces a daunting challenge because he would have to get an assault weapon bill passed by Congress with only a slim Democratic majority.
The call for more restrictive gun control grows louder with every mass shooting, and there have been 243 mass shootings year-to-date, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The month of May culminated in two mass shootings. On May 26 in San Jose, California, a gunman killed eight co-workers and then killed himself at a union meeting at a rail yard for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. On May 30 in Miami-Dade, three gunmen with handguns and semiautomatic rifles shot into a crowd outside a rap concert, and some of the people armed themselves and shot back, leaving two dead and 21 wounded.
Assault rifles have been used in many mass shootings, along with high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds, so they’re a prime target for gun control supporters.
Assault weapon restrictions would focus on semiautomatic assault weapons, which are legal in most states. Assault weapons, which the industry prefers to call modern sporting rifles, are made by Smith & Wesson, Sturm, Ruger, Sig Sauer, HK, Daniel Defense, Noveske, CMMG, Springfield Armory and Franklin Armory, to name a few.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, 18,277 people have died from gun violence in America year to date, including mass shootings, suicides, murders, accidents, and self-defense shootings.