The volume of records run through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) last month, often considered a relative barometer of firearm sales, shattered all previous records for January. It eclipsed the highwater mark set for the 31-day period in 2016—the year Americans purchased more guns than ever—by more than 150,000.
Each NICS check doesn’t necessarily reflect a purchase, however, and the increase in carry permits and renewals processed through the system clouds direct interpretation. Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF) drills into the numbers monthly, though, and in a Feb. 5 press release said it, “…estimates January 2020 U.S. firearm sales at 1,273,531 units, a year-over-year increase of 19.1% from January 2019.”
The continuing improvement in firearm sales, a trend that began late last spring, isn’t the only good news for the industry. Nearly 1.5 million records were processed by the FBI last month to either renew or secure a carry permit. That figure was roughly 1.2 million the same month only a year ago and about the same in 2016.
Purchasing patterns seem to reflect the increasing trend toward self-defense and carry. SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer stated in the press release, “The industry started the 2020 unit-sales year with a bang, as it were, particularly regarding handgun sales. That said, handgun sales generally account for a large portion of sales in the first half of the year before tapering off, relative to long guns, in the second half.”
The record for the most NICS records processed annually by the FBI is 2019, with a total 28,369,750, although it’s estimated only 13.9 million reflected background checks conducted for the purchase of a firearm. By comparison, when the annual firearm sales record of 16.6 million was set in 2016, the total handled by the Bureau was less—27,538,673.
The disparity in figures emphasizes the need for caution when weighing NICS checks as an absolute barometer of industry vitality. It’s also another indication that the popularity and growth in carry permits is another positive note for the industry.