Calculations by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF)—based on the total number of records processed through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)—indicate firearm sales in April declined by 7.3 percent when compared to the same month last year. The slowdown comes on the heels of the double-digit drop observed in March, estimated to be 12.6 percent by SAAF and 12.4 percent by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the industry’s trade association.
February’s figures also suffered a drop of nearly 12 percent, leaving January as the only bright spot so far this year with a modest 3.7 percent increase compared to 2018. “Relative to the first four months of 2016 (the presidential election year), sales in the first four months of 2019 have declined by about 880,000 units,” SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer ominously wrote in a press release. Total sales for that year, however, set the undisputed firearm sales record at roughly 15.7 million. Since then, sales have slowed and NSSF estimates last year’s total volume was down by more than 6 percent compared to 2017.
April set a record for the month in total NICS volume, although the raw figures include carry permits (CCW) and other administrative use of the system that can be misleading. Last month, for example, Kentucky alone ran background checks through it more than 360,000 times for CCW checks. Subtracting those known to be unrelated to firearm purchases gives a more accurate glimpse of total sales nationwide, although it remains a rough estimate of industry health.
Handguns continued its lead as the most popular firearm purchase last month. Single handgun sales for April, according to SAAF, totaled 592,650, with long-gun purchases coming in at 369,377. The figures represent drops of 4.8 percent and 11.2 percent compared to a year ago, respectively.