NICS Checks: Gun Sales Are Still In Record Territory

National Instant Background Check System NICS logo

If you hoped gun sales were headed down, think again. I know that is a double-edged statement. We all love the proliferation of legal firearm ownership. More gun owners equates to more support for the Second Amendment. It also makes finding our favorite models harder.

In July 2020, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) set a new record with a total of 3,639,224. July 2021 recorded the second highest number of checks with 2,860,476. While not nearly as high as July 2020, the latest NICS numbers prove there is still plenty of demand for firearms.

NICS Versus Firearms Sales

Just to be clear, the number of NICS checks does not necessarily equate to the number of firearm sales. NICS numbers include private party transfers and concealed carry permit applications or renewals in states such as Connecticut, Illinois, and Utah. Combined, these do skew the numbers. However, it also tells a tale of a robust thirst for firearm ownership.

Firearm sales did in fact follow the NICS trend. July 2020 firearm sales did in fact reach record territory — something around 1.84 million. The number is an estimate. There is a crazy formula that adds handguns sales, long gun sales, “other” sales, and then multiplies the number of NICS checks with multiple firearms on one submission by 2.5 or something like that. In the end, the total number of sales for the month was a touch over 50% of the total number (3,639,224) of NICS checks.

Applying the same formula to July 2021 NICS numbers results in about 1.25 million or 44% of the NICS checks equating to gun sales. While the numbers are elevated, they are not far above previous records. For example, July 2016 recorded a slightly lower number of sales at 1.22 million, which accounted for about 48% on the NICS checks.

woman in practice shooting gun riffle in martial arts for self defence in an emergency case
Sadly, while gun sales are at record levels, training has seen a decline due to the ammunition shortage.

However you chose to parse the numbers, the result is the same. Americans are buying firearms for sporting purposes, self-defense, collecting, or whatever other reasons you can come up with, and they are doing it in record numbers. Demand has steadily increased for decades and whether boosted by politics or pandemics, one fact remains — we live in a well-armed society.

As for sales versus the total number of NICS… Politicians and partisans will skew the numbers for their own purposes by over or understating the truth, but I do not think it really matters. I am happy to welcome more law-abiding citizens to gun ownership, as much as I am overjoyed to hear more citizens are getting their concealed carry permits for the first time or maintaining their responsibility for their own safety, as well as their loved ones, by renewing their permit.

Delinking Gun Sales From NICS Checks

Although it may not be the case for you or me when we make a new purchase, the FBI does not actually charge the states for a NICS check. Many FFL charge for the time it takes them to file the NICS. This is good and bad. On one hand, if the FBI starting charging for NICS checks, the cost would likely be passed along to the buyer.

National Instant Background Check System NICS logo
However you chose to parse the numbers, the result is the same. Americans are buying firearms for sporting purposes, self-defense, collecting, or whatever other reasons you can come up with, and they are doing it in record numbers.

On the other hand, states take advantage of the free service to run a variety of checks such as background investigations for carry permits and renewals for permits. States such as Illinois and Kentucky run thousands of these checks each month.

The Good News

The proof is in the numbers. Demand for firearms and ammunition is still very high. Due to the high demand we have experienced since the beginning of the pandemic, sales have been strong. Retailers’ and manufacturers’ shelves have been stripped clean. All hope is not lost. The manufacturers are responding and new product is flowing to retailers. Not fast to enough to fill the shelves, but enough to provide better availability of desirable models.

Ammunition is another story. The ammunition crunch was two main catalysts. First demand skyrocketed. Second, while a couple of major manufacturers claimed they were producing ammunition at full capacity, other manufacturers’ reloading machines were often sitting idle. It was for a lack of want, it was a shortage of primes that prevented them from producing more cartridges.

Primers started arriving in the U.S. over the summer. This will result in an increased production capacity overall, but there is a new potential threat on the horizon. Three unions are on strike at the world’s largest copper producer. If and how the strike will impact ammunition production is not clear just yet.

Winchester USA Forged Ammunition box
Buying in bulk aids in economy.

For the new shooter, the previous demand, difficulty, and cost of procuring ammunition was a barrier to firearm ownership or obtaining training. This is sad for many reasons. The majority of seasoned shooters keep at least some ammunition back in reserve. Personally, I cannot stand having less than a bow or magazine for every gun I own. I know many reading this feels the same, and more than a few have stockpiles that put mine supply to shame.

While the number of rounds that shooters are popping off has waned, current estimates put private stockpiles in civilian hands totaling as much as 1 trillion rounds. Personally, I would not go that high, but there were a few you — you know who you are — who were wise enough to stack the shelves deep. For the rest, once supply returns and demand slows, start stockpiling your personal stash and prepare for the next demand spike.

How do you think the spike in new gun ownership as well as those of us who continue to build out our collection will affect politicians and efforts to weaken the Second Amendment? Share your answers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

1 Comment;

  1. So let’s all pose a question to the Biden administration! How many NICS checks did the Taliban have to go through in order to take possession of over 800,000 U.S. small arms, most fully automatic weapons. The answer is (0)! so as far as I’m concerned until you go get all those weapons back I’m not ever registering anything I own, nor will I ever turn any of my guns (so called assault weapons) over to this government.

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