The number of NICS background checks conducted by the FBI in 2019 came in at 28,369,750, the highest mark since the agency began the program in 1998. After an adjustment for the volume of concealed-carry permit applications, renewals and other administrative use of the system, Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF) estimates the figure reflects total firearm sales of 13.9 million firearms last year.
“The industry ended the 2019 year with sales of about 100,000 more units than for the whole of 2018 (13.9 vs. 13.8 million units),” SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer explained in a press release this week. “While unit sales during 2020, being a U.S. presidential election year, may increase again (even absent politics, we estimate to about 14.4 million units), it is unlikely that the industry will return to its 2016 sales high of 16.6 million units.”
Increases in handgun sales are playing a critical role in the market’s improvement. “One trend that will continue, however, is of the U.S. as a ‘handgun nation,’” Brauer said. “Since 2014, annual handgun unit sales have handily outpaced annual long-gun unit sales in 2019 by nearly 2.3 million units.”
NICS background checks conducted in December 2019 claimed second place honors in the all-time-record list for the period, although the total fell nearly 400,000 short of the record set in 2015. SAAF estimates that in December firearm sales reflected by the FBI figures totaled roughly 1,671,775. Of those 859,850 were single handgun sales, with another 689,444 reflecting the purchase of a long arm (rifle or shotgun). Other related firearm purchases came in at 122,481, a figure that includes enthusiasts who bought multiple guns at the same time, which requires only one background check.
Since the NICS program began, the FBI has conducted more than 333 million background checks.