Washington, D.C., April 1, 2021 - Following the release of the latest data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Brady estimates that nearly 2 million firearms were sold last month. The latest data released by the FBI shows that 4.69 million background checks were initiated in March, with two weeks last month ranking among the top 10 highest weeks for the number of background checks initiated since NICS came online in 1998.

Brady President Kris Brown shared:

“The latest data released by the FBI shows that Americans continue to react to uncertainty by seeking self protection with a firearm. This reaction follows decades of public posturing by the gun industry and the NRA, who have fueled a year of panic purchasing by promulgating fear and paranoia. Even in response to last month’s mass shooting in Denver, the NRA tweeted the text of the Second Amendment, again emphasizing their ahistorical interpretation of the right to bear arms over the general public's right to public safety and right to live.

These new statistics similarly do not reflect the many firearms that are sold without a background check in private transfers, potentially dangerous sales that are currently legal. Those sales are not regulated and therefore not accounted for in NICS data. We need comprehensive gun safety laws, such as universal background checks, to ensure that firearm sales are conducted safely and that individuals prohibited from buying a firearm do not obtain one. This is a cause that Americans agree on. Polling last month showed that 84 percent of voters, including over three-quarters of Republicans and 82 percent of Independents, support a law requiring a background check for all firearm purchases.

Brady calls on the U.S. Senate to immediately pass the two bills that the House of Representatives passed last month in a bipartisan vote, H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446, which would expand and strengthen the Brady background check system to prevent sales to prohibited purchasers. The time to act is now."

About the Increase in Gun Sales over the Last Year:

2020 smashed previous gun sales and background check records. Brady estimates that over 20.6 million firearms were sold in 2020, a 64 percent increase over the 12.6 million estimated sales in 2019. This surge continued into January 2021 and, while February’s increases are smaller than previous months, as many as 1.3 million firearms were sold in February 2021.

About Gun Sale Increases Around Elections and Periods of Uncertainty:

Historically, we have seen surges in gun sales after highly publicized mass shootings incidents and before presidential elections. This reaction to uncertainty aligns with known attitudes towards gun ownership and self protection, as many as 67 percent of gun owners say that they own a firearm for protection. Similarly, increases in sales correspond to elections or following mass shootings, when individuals believe that new or restrictive gun laws will follow, a fear sown and stoked by the gun lobby and the NRA. Examples include:

  • An increase in sales following the 2012 presidential election and the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut:
    • There were an estimated 1.46 million sales in November 2012, a 39 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over November 2011

    • There were an estimated 2.21 million sales in December 2012, a 60 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over December 2011

    • There were an estimated 1.76 million sales in January 2013, a 99 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over January 2012

  • An increase in sales following the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida
    • There were an estimated 1.1 million sales in June 2016, a 30 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over June 2015

    • There were an estimated 1.17 million sales in July 2016, a 29 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over July 2015

  • An increase in sales preceding the 2016 election
    • There were an estimated 1.31 million sales in October 2016, a 14 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over July 2015

    • There were an estimated 1.61 million sales in November 2016, a 16 percent increase in population adjusted gun sales over November 2015

About Brady’s Gun Sales Estimates:

While the number of Brady Background Checks initiated through NICS is not equivalent to the number of guns sold, it does provide insight into trends in U.S. firearm sales. This data only reflects gun sales where background checks are initiated. Many private sales occur without any background check and these are not included in the NICS data. Additionally, some background checks result in a denial, meaning that the transfer to the prospective purchaser cannot legally proceed.

NICS data is available by month, year, state, and transaction type. Using methods similar to those used by The New York Times, the Small Arms Survey, and National Rifle Association, Brady uses specific data sets included in NICS’ monthly reports to generate estimates of gun sales for a given period. More information on Brady’s methodology is available here.

Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.


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