Nearly Five Million Americans Became Gun Owners in First Half of 2020

Record-setting year for gun sales could play major role in presidential election

A man chooses a gun in Glendale, California / Getty Images
August 25, 2020

Nearly five million Americans became first-time gun owners in 2020, according to a new report.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry's trade group, estimates that 17.1 million guns have been sold between January and August with 4.84 million Americans purchasing their first guns. The sales—especially to new owners—represent a significant shift in American attitudes on gun ownership.

"This is a tectonic shift in the firearm and ammunition industry marketplace and complete transformation of today’s gun-owning community," Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel, said in a statement.

Wex Gunworks in Delray Beach, Fla., has been "slammed" with demand from first-time buyers, according to owner Brandon Wexler. Wexler attributed the surge—which threatened to cause supply shortages—to uncertainty fostered by the coronavirus pandemic and rioting in cities across the country.

"Since the eruption of Covid-19 and the age of protests new gun owners have flocked to the shop to buy firearms, accessories, and get firearms training," Wexler told the Washington Free Beacon. "We were slammed up through about six weeks ago, then inventory dried up from a manufacturing standpoint."

New buyers could represent a political boon for gun-rights groups and pro-gun politicians in the coming months or years. Some gun-rights groups have already seen memberships spike. The NRA, which is supporting President Trump's reelection, claims to have added 1,000 new members per day through the months of June and July. Another recent NSSF survey indicated that black Americans and women were among the fastest-growing demographics for new buyers. If gun-rights activists are able to make inroads with groups of Americans who have traditionally favored more gun control, the effect on November's election could be especially significant.

"These first-time buyers represent a group of people who, until now, were agnostic regarding firearm ownership," Keane said. "That’s rapidly changing, and these Americans are taking hold of their God-given right to keep and bear arms and protect themselves and their loved ones."

To determine the number of new owners, NSSF said it combined their gun sales estimate with a recent dealer survey. The group said it expects gun sales to continue to boom in the second half of 2020 due to the political environment surrounding the 2020 elections—especially the aggressive gun-control policies proposed by Democratic candidates.

"Firearm sales typically rise during presidential election years," NSSF said in a statement. "Democratic candidates Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) are calling for stringent gun-control measures, including forcible confiscation, banning entire classes of firearms from lawful possession, licensing schemes and repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which would expose the firearm industry to frivolous and harassing lawsuits."