An estimated 6 million guns have been sold since the coronavirus outbreak began in March, as May marked the third consecutive month of record-high sales.
More than 1.7 million guns were sold in May 2020, according to an analysis by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting. That is an all-time record for the month and an 80 percent increase from 2019. The spike in sales comes as rioting grips the nation and the coronavirus continues to dominate headlines. Jurgen Brauer, the group's chief economist, called the trend "unprecedented."
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"Firearms sales have surged in unprecedented ways," he said in a statement. "The boom in handgun sales has been particularly noticeable in recent months."
May is typically the slowest month of gun sales in the spring, but 2020's record-setting monthly figures were down only slightly from April's 1.8 million and March's 2.5 million—the highest sales total ever recorded in a single month. Most surprising to observers is the fact that May 2020 saw more sales than both March and April of 2019. The record-setting sales pace has been driven in large part by new gun owners, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group.
"Our recent survey of firearm retailers shows us that 40 percent of these gun buyers are buying a firearm for the first time," Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the group, said in a statement. "Of those first-time gun owners, 40 percent are women and these buyers are overwhelmingly purchasing handguns for personal protection."
The sales came as the death toll from the coronavirus rose to over 100,000, unemployment soared to over 20 percent, and rioting swept the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The influx of new gun owners has the potential to change the politics surrounding gun laws in America. Oliva said the record sales were evidence of Americans' desire to protect themselves during the current chaos.
"Americans are being confronted with decisions regarding their personal safety and are voting with their wallets on their right to keep and bear arms," he said.
The analysis of gun sales is based on data from the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) but does not capture every sale in the country. While NICS checks are required on nearly all gun sales conducted by licensed dealers, most states do not require them on sales of used guns by private citizens, and multiple sales can be conducted during a single check.
NICS also reports checks completed during gun-carry permit applications in its raw numbers. Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting attempts to parse out checks only associated with gun sales in their analysis.