This Is the Only State Where Gun Sales Fell Last Year

shotguns for sale in gun shop
Marina_Skoropadskaya / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Gun sales in the United States rose 40% last year to 39,695,315. The figure represents the high water mark in gun sales since the current record-keeping system went into effect. Increases by state varied substantially. In at least one state, sales more than doubled.

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks gun sales and publishes a list of how many are handled as part of its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Each month, the figures are reported by state. Nearly everyone put through this system qualifies as a buyer. People who are excluded usually have criminal records. Of the more than 300 million checks that have been done since 1998, there have only been 1.5 million denials. Therefore, the data is the best proxy for U.S. gun sales available.

Growing civil unrest may have prompted people to buy guns for personal and family protection, many social scientists have posited, although this remains a matter of debate. Another theory is that chaos brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is a major cause. A new U.C. Davis School of Medicine study about fear of violence reports: “The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated persistent structural, economic and social inequities in the conditions that contribute to violence and its consequences.”

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Who bought these guns? CBS News pointed out that over 5 million people were first-time gun buyers last year. CNN reported a sharp rise in sales to Black Americans and women. “Sales to women are also up 40% through September when compared with the same period last year,” the news network pointed out.

The rise in gun sales from 2019 to 2020 is not an anomaly. The number of gun sales has increased most years since 1999. Sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011 and 10 million in 2006. The first full year the FBI kept data was 1999, when total sales were 9,138,123.

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Notably, the figures show that gun sales and population are not related. Illinois at 7,455,065 had almost 19% of American gun sales in 2020 but has only about 4% of the nation’s population. Kentucky’s gun sales at 3,330,462 were over 8% of the national total. Its population is just a little over 1% of the national figure.

Gun sales only fell in one state last year. The figure stands out, particularly because gun sales in three states rose by over 100% in 2020. In every other state, they were higher by at least 20%.

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Gun sales in Kentucky fell 19.2%, for some unexplained reason, from 4,120,892. By some measures in the state, gun permits rose, but the FBI data show a large erosion.

Gun purchase behavior continues to be poorly understood but hotly debated, which means a definitive answer won’t be forthcoming. Suffice it to say, the extent of the rise in most states and falloff in Kentucky begs a whole series of larger questions about why Americans would buy almost 40 million guns in one year.

State 2019 Sales 2020 Sales Change
United States 28,007,320 39,326,079 40.40%
Michigan 492,171 1,068,511 117.10%
Rhode Island 24,338 51,369 111.10%
Maryland 148,813 302,563 103.30%
New Jersey 91,257 177,901 94.90%
Arizona 372,912 665,458 78.40%
Nevada 128,312 219,349 70.90%
Wisconsin 435,685 731,618 67.90%
North Carolina 530,365 890,284 67.90%
Georgia 539,113 904,035 67.70%
Delaware 46,427 77,057 66.00%
South Carolina 328,221 530,930 61.80%
Vermont 35,843 57,965 61.70%
Virginia 512,766 823,513 60.60%
Florida 1,195,539 1,912,204 59.90%
Hawaii 12,666 20,102 58.70%
Alabama 690,084 1,085,475 57.30%
Texas 1,487,212 2,325,281 56.40%
New Hampshire 112,173 174,662 55.70%
Tennessee 635,313 984,760 55.00%
Mississippi 238,388 366,829 53.90%
Nebraska 68,236 104,511 53.20%
Ohio 638,495 976,751 53.00%
Louisiana 282,264 430,537 52.50%
Maine 90,626 137,149 51.30%
Illinois 4,949,570 7,455,065 50.60%
Kansas 167,010 249,589 49.40%
Montana 115,823 172,695 49.10%
Wyoming 61,291 91,384 49.10%
Iowa 182,802 270,614 48.00%
Utah 823,270 1,216,773 47.80%
Pennsylvania 987,886 1,452,921 47.10%
Arkansas 221,344 324,741 46.70%
Colorado 469,535 680,507 44.90%
Oregon 357,700 516,096 44.30%
New York 355,374 507,940 42.90%
Missouri 497,858 708,184 42.20%
North Dakota 60,389 85,465 41.50%
Minnesota 682,356 958,391 40.50%
South Dakota 85,426 115,448 35.10%
Idaho 209,275 281,284 34.40%
Indiana 1,450,565 1,935,587 33.40%
New Mexico 156,829 206,252 31.50%
Oklahoma 360,043 470,286 30.60%
California 1,240,632 1,601,054 29.10%
West Virginia 206,196 265,705 28.90%
Washington 607,170 781,471 28.70%
Alaska 76,923 98,952 28.60%
Connecticut 172,935 219,227 26.80%
Massachusetts 212,316 262,583 23.70%
Kentucky 4,120,892 3,330,462 -19.20%
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This Is the Only State Where Gun Sales Fell Last Year
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