Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting’s (SAAF) calculations indicate November’s total firearm sales beat last year’s volume for the month by only a margin of roughly 1 percent—well below the surge some anticipated after the volume of gun purchases the day after Thanksgiving. “While FBI/NICS background checks for Black Friday were widely reported in the national media as the ‘second-largest in recorded history,’ the unit sales picture for the whole of November 2019 was less sensational,” SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brauer cautioned in a Dec. 4 press release. “Black Friday has become Black November for many retailers, and Cyber Monday falls, this year, into the month of December so that the single-day focus appears less relevant than the monthly picture. For the year-to-date unit sales run about 12.24 million units (January to November) as compared to last year’s 12.21 million units.”
Brauer’s comment indicates there’s good reason for cautious optimism, though. With Cyber Monday and Cyber Week taking place in December this year there’s a good chance December’s adjusted figures will eclipse 2018’s numbers for the month, or better. This year’s Black Friday NICS checks came in at 202,465, placing it second in the FBI’s all-time list of the most performed by the agency in a single 24-hour period. The same heavy shopping day in 2017 still holds the record at 203,086.
SAAF broke down the numbers for all of November—subtracting a variety of administrative uses of the NICS system—in its press release. Despite the month-end -buying surge, total sales barely beat last year. The organization’s press release, “…estimates November 2019 U.S. Firearm sales at 1,423,869 units, a year-over-year increase of 1.4% over November 2018. Likely single handgun sales (702,390) increased year-over-year by 9.2% whereas single long-gun sales (614,538) decreased year-over-year by 20.3%. This includes so-called ‘multiple’ sales where the allocation between handguns and long-guns cannot be determined from the data record.”
Total volume of background checks illustrates the perils of relying on raw NICS check numbers. If the FBI conducts 2.2 million this month, 2019 will claim the title for the most conducted in a single year—despite the fact the annual firearm sales record set in 2016 (adjusted to roughly 15.7 million) is not in jeopardy. This month’s gift purchases and enthusiasts who take advantage of promotions currently offered by manufacturers have the final say in how the firearm industry remembers 2019.