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January 7, 2021

Taking Stock of Record-Setting 2020 Firearm Year

By Joe Bartozzi

Twenty-one million. Let that number sink in for a moment.

That’s a very big number. If I told you at SHOT Show® last year that the industry would see 21 million background checks for the sale of a firearm in 2020, you would have thought I was crazy. One year later and with the benefit of hindsight, this was truly a remarkable year for the industry across the board.

The final figures for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) put all of this year’s hard work into perspective. Twenty-one million background checks were conducted for the sale of a firearm over the past 12 months. That topped 2019’s totals of 13.2 million by 60 percent. It also shattered the previous record from 2016, when 15.7 million background checks were conducted for the sale of firearms. This year’s 21 million total surpassed 2016 by 5.3 million, or 34 percent.

Here’s one more incredible number to witness. NSSF estimates that 8.4 million people bought a firearm for the first time in 2020. That’s 40 percent of all purchases. This year’s buyer is increasingly diverse too. Forty percent of 2020’s buyers were women and the biggest increase of any demographic category was among African Americans, who bought guns at a rate of 58 percent greater than in 2019.


None of this was possible without the resilience and determination of the industry. Our own Government Relations teams – both in Federal and State Affairs – were quick to act to keep the industry open. When the rest of America was shutting down, NSSF’s team made sure gun manufacturers, distributors, retailers and ranges weren’t forced to close their doors. It was apparent early that Americans in every state were choosing to exercise their Second Amendment rights in record numbers and that’s not possible unless manufacturers are turning raw metal into finished firearms and ammunition.

America’s Second Amendment freedoms are literally designed, assembled and shipped from NSSF member manufacturers, distributors and retailers each day.

Even while the firearm industry was cranking production to record levels, they were also serving their communities. Brownells offered computer server space to run modeling tests for vaccine research. Federal Premium, SIG SAUER, Radians, Smith & Wesson, Versacarry, Keltec and Ruger were among many of the firearm businesses that converted manufacturing space or donated supplies to help first responders. Bass Pro Shops’ Johnny Morris donated one million masks to keep first responders safe.


The amazing thing is that among the concerns surrounding the pandemic, the industry responded. Manufacturing and distribution facilities shifted personnel and made physical changes to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Retailers and ranges adopted safety measures to keep customers and staff safe. This all happened even as the industry worked to keep up with the breathless pace of demand.

That demand is most clearly evident on the ammunition shelves. Most shelves are still bare, but that’s not a result of anything but overwhelming demand. At 8.4 million new gun owners buying just two boxes of ammunition each, that translates to 850 million cartridges. Federal Premium’s Jason Vanderbrink spoke directly to customers to set the record straight. Rumors of secret warehouses or reduced production capacity just aren’t true.

“We are doing our damnedest to meet this demand,” he said.

Jason Hornady of Hornady Ammunition echoed the same notion in his own video.

“The stuff that goes out today was literally put in a box yesterday,” he said. “We’ve made one-third more than last year. Unfortunately, we don’t have an extra factory laying around…”

This is true across the industry. It’s what’s made 2020 successful and what will set this industry up to meet demand across America in 2021.


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Tags: ammunition sales Gun Owners Care gun sales NICS Background Checks Record Year

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