2016 Is Already a Record Year for Gun Sales in the USA

It’s not news to gun owners that firearms sales in the United States have skyrocketed upwards since the expiration of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, a trend which picked up steam with the 2008 election. What is surprising even to a seasoned gun nerd like myself is just how much gun sales in the US have grown, and how relentless the growth has been. As evidence of this, 2016 has already become the all-time record year for gun sales in the USA, even without counting the month of December (the highest-sales month of the the year for guns). The first eleven months of 2016 have seen 24,767,514 NICS checks, well over two and a half million checks more than 2015’s record of 23,141,970.

Writer and TFB friend Hognose, of the site WeaponsMan.com, has been tracking gun sales for 2016 through the FBI’s NICS records as well as NSSF adjusted numbers, and he projects a conservative number of 27 million NICS checks for 2016, once December has come and gone – and that is very conservative, as just substituting last years numbers for the month of December puts the total over 28 million. He writes:

How Can We Say there’s an Annual Record with One Month Left?

Of course, as of 8 December we don’t have final data for even the FBI NICS, the most rapidly reporting of these numbers, so how can we say there’s a record?

Well, the FBI NICS numbers for the first eleven months of 2016 are in, and the total exceeds 2015’s record number (23,141,970, in case it was not at the tip of your tongue. That was over 2 million higher than 2014 or 2013). FBI’s 2016 year to date is 24,767,514, and there’s still a month — the biggest sales month — to go.

Normally, we run a naïve forecast throughout the year. It takes no account of the heavy seasonality in gun sales and NICS checks, and simply takes an average of all the months of this year that have reported so far, and “assumes” that average will be the result for still-unreported months. On this metric, we have known for months that 2016 would be a record; for example, once we got our hands on September’s numbers, we were forecasting 26.5 million NICS for the year, conservatively (conservatively because November and December are historically the peak months), even though under 20 million NICS were complete at the time. Our new forecast for 2016 is 27,019,106. Given that the arithmetic used creates false precision, you read it here first: NICS checks for 2016 will probably exceed 27 million.

But they’ve already set a record of 24,767,514. That’s almost double the last year of the Bush presidency (2008).

So far this year, two weeks this year, have been among the Top Ten NICS weeks since FBI started counting (1998), and Black Friday barely edged out last year’s Black Friday for the all-time one-day crown (data here; .pdf)

Please do click through and read the whole thing.

To illustrate how mind-boggling these numbers are for civilian firearm production numbers for a single year, consider that the total number of rifles and carbines produced by or on contract for the US government during World War II was just 12.5 million, a little more than half the NICS checks that have already been counted, and just 46% of Hognose’s projections.





Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Martin M

    Does anyone have an actual count for the past 7 years, 11 months? Am I counting this correctly and ball-parking 200 million?

    • carlcasino

      Pretty close NSSF is projecting 27-28 million NCIS checks for 2016.

  • Keiichi

    That last stat is quite interesting… Too bad there’s no way to know what portion of checks this year were for 1st time purchases.

    • Joseph Goins

      I think that the majority of purchases were from current owners afraid of what a certain politician might do should said politician be elected to office. My brother owns the largest gunshop in town. He estimates that less than 25% of the guns he sells are for households without a gun. He said the overwhelming majority of them are going to 1) people who already own many guns, 2) people who are getting their own gun after sharing their spouse’s gun, 3) people who turned 18/21 and are buying their “first” gun.

      • TonysTake ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ

        I agree with your brother’s numbers when counting “Households.” First time gun buyers is around 50%, be it a spouse, son, daughter or simply a first time buyer. Plus, think about the number of guns sold that are not required to go through the NCIS. Our right to keep arms shall not be infringed.

      • Rick O’Shay

        I own multiple guns, and own (for the most part) all the guns I realistically feel the need to own. The guns I’ve purchased in the last year or two have been with the intent of passing them along to my children. And should legislation pass at a state or federal level that requires transfers be done through FFLs, well, my children already own those guns. I’m just holding the firearms for them until they have safe storage options for themselves. So in a sense, a lot of my recent purchases were for the intent of creating new gun owners.

        • Joseph Goins

          But they would have already had access to the guns. It doesn’t expand the ownership pool. It’s more like preaching to the choir.
          (Happy for you, so please don’t take offense. I do the same thing.)

          • Rick O’Shay

            It does expand the ownership pool in a sense though. Since they’re currently underage and therefore not eligible to purchase firearms just yet, should a law ever be passed that essentially strips them of their right to buy/own a firearm, they’re already a part of the pool of owners. So often I hear from left-leaning “friends,” that “they’re not trying to take away your guns.” No, but they ARE trying to take away my children’s guns before they can even get them. When my children are legal age, they’ll be going out into the big bad world already armed. The first one is only a couple of years away from that, and decently proficient with firearms.

          • BigR

            All of my sons are proficient with guns! So are three of my grandsons!

        • BigR

          @Rick O’Shay
          I doing the same thing!!!!

    • My completely unscientific anecdotal report is that I’ve overheard counter clerks at a dozen different places giving a heck of a lot more basic safety/storage/maintenance instructions to buyers this year than in years previous, and a lot more customers asking “So what sort of gun should I get for…” type questions.

      • Dan

        I’ve noticed an increase in groups of women browsing the local gun stores. I womder if they feel it’s less intimidating in a group?

      • Rick O’Shay

        Among my social circle, I’m the “gun nut.” In the last year, there’s been a SIGNIFICANT increase in friends shooting me a text saying, “what gun should I get/what gun should I get my wife?” Everyone’s motivations seem to vary, but it’s always ultimately boiled down to the fact that they want to protect their family, and they’ve come to the light on “Shall not be infringed.”

  • Joseph Goins

    I bet the numbers for 2017 will drop off significantly. Probably 16,000,000 NICS checks.

    • USMC03Vet

      Let’s make it happen by getting suppressors removed as NFA items and sold like any other benign firearm accessory!

      • TonysTake ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ

        My ears say, “THANK YOU”

  • USMC03Vet

    Removing a lot of those absurd NFA restrictions would give the industry a shot in the arm. Industry already has a sufficient leg workout covered.

    • Paul White

      if suppressors and short barrels were deregulated, a 10″ 300 blackout AR would jump to the top of my list for a new house gun

      • Top of the list for a truck gun in a hard-mount vault.

  • Dougscamo

    Can’t all be going to the “Super Hardcore Gun Owner(s)”…..we’re all broke….

  • Ark

    Aaaaand this is why Trump isn’t going to bring back 2005 prices on everything. Zero incentive to drop prices whatsoever.

  • Michael S

    As a minor who is unable to purchase guns, how many new people are getting guns? I have heard that less and less people are getting into shooting and that America is moving forward the left. I suppose what i am trying to ask is: are more and more people getting guns (not including growth due to population increase), or is it just the same people buying more and more guns?

    • TonysTake ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ

      Don’t over think the math my young friend and don’t believe the leftist propaganda that says less and less people are getting into shooting. My wife told me that if I want a new one, I have to sell an old one. That rule does not apply to her however. My guess is that for every 10 guns bought, there are at least 5 sold that never go through the NCIS BS. Everyone that has one, wants two. They are that much fun to own and shoot. To be sure, a percentage of the guns sold every year go to people who already own one. I am guessing the highest number of new gun owners to be around 50%. Not scientific but you asked.

    • you can find a lot of articles on the subject just by googling around, and there is a distinct difference in tone between those written before Trump got the nomination and those written after. Prior to the nomination, most of them were about the number of gun owners holding steady or decreasing while gun sales rose– meaning that fewer people were buying more guns– but afterward the articles are mostly about an influx of new gun owners buying for the first time. This election season was terrible, I’ve been voting for twenty five years and this was easily the worst and most disgusting I’ve ever seen, but it most definitely prompted Left, Right, and Center alike to hit the gun shops for different reasons.

      Old poll numbers and ownership estimates no longer apply; from 2016 onward, do not trust the accuracy of any such article unless it was written recently from recently-compiled data.

    • RSG

      Let’s put it in perspective. Conventional thought was that there was 150 million guns in civilian hands prior to the formation of NICS close to 20 years ago. People say there are only 300 million guns in circulation. A more fair estimate is that it’s really closer to 450 million. Heck, just in the last 8 years, there were 200 million sold. 100 million Americans have at least 1 firearm in their home. Just in the last 12 months, preparing for Hillary and a new assault weapons ban, I averaged 2 lower receivers a month. They are considered the firearm and required a 4473.

  • Some Guy

    >3 weeks before the end of the year
    >2016 is already….
    >already

    wut?

    • codfilet

      There’s a big show near me this coming weekend. I expect to up the 2016 tally a click or two….

    • TonysTake ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ

      They still give degrees in journalism and shoot horses, don’t they? Why can’t you find one when you need one?

  • Badwolf

    I’m the best gun salesman in the world! Guess who I am.

    • TonysTake ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ ᵀʳᵘᵐᵖ

      Waving… “HI OBAMA!”

  • I’m thrilled by reports of so many nervous ninny Democrats running to gun shops for the leftist-ish version of doomsday prepping, because I’m also hearing a lot of reports of them experiencing personal revelations about firearms– and how murdertoy death fetishy they aren’t– in the process. It’s like bussing in the ’70s– turns out the best way to fight bigotry really is by integrating communities and giving them all the opportunity to interact with each other and see that “other” isn’t really a codeword for “evil”. The more gun owners there are, the less likely any gun control legislation will be to gain traction once those Ninnycrats inevitably take over again when the political pendulum swings the other way.

    • tts

      AFAIK nothing like that is going on at all and I have family that live in California which is one of the more Democratic states around. I think you’re being played for a sucker by some tabloid-esque “news” service or something if you actually believe this.

      Also based on personal experience, gun buying doesn’t do any “integrating of communities”. The few Leftists I know that own guns don’t want anything to do with most gun owners politics and vice versa.

      • J. Murphy

        The problem with the idea of political “integration” is that the Gun culture in the United States has done everything it can do to push anyone to the left of Rush Limbaugh out. When the status quo is “you either share our politics, or you’re the enemy” you’re not leaving much room for peaceful coexistence.

        • tts

          Yup this right here.

        • carlcasino

          I thought that was the Democrats definition of co-operation? I always called it capitulation. The Constitution is a pretty easy document to read if you keep the Lawyers locked in a rubber room. The sooner America goes back to the Roots that made us the Greatest Experiment in History the sooner This Constitutional Republic gets back to it’s basic jobs–They are listed, for all that are interested, in assisting America to become Great again.

          • J. Murphy

            “The Constitution is a pretty easy document to read”

            Right, that’s why there’s universal agreement across the United States on almost every Civil rights issue and the only major disagreements are economic in nature, right?

            Except that’s not how it is, and most of the major partisan disagreements in the United States can be traced back to both sides reading the Constitution and its Amendments, reaching drastically different conclusions about the intended scope and meaning of the articles involved, and then loudly asserting that their interpretation is the only correct one and that there’s absolutely no room for compromise with the opposing side.

            Very much like religious disputes actually.

    • carlcasino

      I first voted for JFK and have seen a few swings. Unless everything goes south( which I don’t see in my Glass Ball) The Progressives have signed the death knell of the Democratic party. Remember Progressive is the polite version of Socialism.

      • J. Murphy

        The president elect is BFF with Putin, has appointed a pack of Goldman-Sachs bankers (the same company he repeatedly bashed as being a puppeteer behind the “Globalist conspiracy”) to his cabinet and regularly makes a fool of himself in 120 characters or less. He hasn’t even taken the oath of office yet and he’s already proving unfit for political office.

        Yeah, that damn socialist Hilary Clinton, who’s so loved by progressives, America sure showed her how much they hate the left when they… oh wait, she won the popular vote despite being an unpopular centrist candidate with enormous political baggage attached. It’s almost like there’s a healthy political diversity in the United States that stops one party from “killing” the other or something.

        • carlcasino

          Hate to break it to you but America is NOT a Democracy and the EC was instituted to prevent NYC, Los Angeles, and a few other Large population center from electing the next POTUS. I believe the Donald will make a difference because in my 80 years I have never asked a politician to do anything FOR me but have pleaded for them to not DO anything TO me and never had a POOR guy offer me a job. Career & Politician are two words that have ruined America.

          • J. Murphy

            America is not a DIRECT Democracy. The United States is a Constitutional Republic, with a government made up of Congressmen who are elected by popular vote, aka… …Democratically.

            The Electoral College was instituted in 1787, Los Angeles didn’t even become part of the United States till 1848. I sincerely doubt that the intent of the Electoral College was to disenfranchise voters 230 years later.

            But that’s not why I brought up the popular vote, I brought it up because it shows that there’s no “death knell”, politics aren’t a Last Man Standing match, and a country whose citizens can no longer grasp that is doomed to instability and decay.

            Every country has a class of professional politicians, any sufficiently charming idiot can get elected or appointed to an office. The business of leading a country cannot be successfully undertaken by any charismatic fool.

          • carlcasino

            You should have been around in 64,76,92 & 2008. when we elected charismatic fools, just in my voting lifetime. One of the major problems of national popular vote is a phenomenon I call Group Think. I’m sure you have seen it in play. The people in Dallas will tell you, almost to a man, that the Cowboys are the Greatest team in American History. Having been raised in Houston TX. during the rein of Earl Campbell I would have to disagree. So it goes that the more people you pack into an ever stagnant area the more group think become “the way” to go. Houston used to be one of the friendliest towns in America( I traveled a LOT) but in the mid 90’s it became more and more Latino and Rust Belt Refugees and more and more like Tokyo, during WWII.( I was there in 57) You have no personal space and if you think outside the box you are a pariah and that leads to conflict or capitulation. Think Hollyweird. If it takes conflict to preserve the Republic-Molon Labe–

          • J. Murphy

            Yeah, and that G.W. Bush was the second coming of Ronnie Reagan right? The fact of the matter is, rural voters skew conservative, Urban dwellers skew liberal, that’s not just the United States, that’s the trend in western countries in general. If there’s any “group think” inherent in that, it’s an effect that cuts both ways.

            The President works on behalf of all American citizens, therefore all citizens should have an equal vote, the current status quo disenfranchises a New York City Republican voter just as much as it disenfranchises a Democrat living in rural Alabama.

          • carlcasino

            I worked for George Herbert Walker and he was an honorable man, His Son GW married well !.You missed the boat on math class. The Founders recognized the inherent dangers of the major population centers depriving lesser populated areas not having a say in the selection of a POTUS. If the popular vote was to be instituted nation wide The Election would be over before Texas even got to vote. It’s a time change thing. Your analysis of rural and urban is correct. The urban is the mega population group think that could end the election when NY, Wisconsin, Maine, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Florida & Virginia voting as a block. Ask yourself , If I were a politician, where would I spend my money trying to convince voters that only pay attention a few days before election day, since most people actually used to work for a living? I think this election was a watershed moment. The media is over 90% Liberal, by their own admission, and academia has been Progressive (read Socialist) since the turn of the century, so indoctrination and the bull horn has been and continues to be left of center. The American people in this election looked at the choices and determined that we were given two flawed candidates and the choice was MORE of the SAME so lets TRY ANOTHER approach. The west coast has been called the land of the Fruits & Nuts for being so far to the left that it is accepted doctrine that it’s a safe haven for anything anti Constitution. The Left coast is a locked Democrat Stronghold just as the Black vote is solid left. I believe in the wisdom of our Founders since their knowledge of History gave us a document that is NOT a living document ever changing with the whims of mere mortals but a road map for the most successful experiment in World history in Self Governance. A pure Democracy would make us no better than Cuba, Russia or Venezuela. I guess I have traveled too much and seen things 99% of the population have never even read about so my opinion is naturally jaded.

  • Dual sport

    As many have said this is “completely unscientific ” but at shows and shops I frequent I see women buying the majority of guns. It would have to be at least 75% of the 4473’s being filled out. They also seem to be first time buyers.

    Again, just my perspective.

  • A Fascist Corgi

    At the risk of sounding like a paranoid doomsday prepper, it’s hard to ignore the implications of such a massive surge in firearm sales when you consider how polarized America is becoming. If I was an alien and I was observing the trends in America, I’d immediately think that they’re preparing for a civil war.

  • durabo

    Let’s give a prize to Mullah Hussein and The Hildebeeste for being the 2016 Firearm Sales Champions for Free America.

  • dltaylor51

    Now that Trump is going to be in office ARs and 22 shells are going to be for sale at gunshows for less than ever before,I saw rem thunderbolts for $30 and new ARs for under $500 at the last gunshow so the firearms industry has had its heyday and prices are going to go through the floor soon.

  • John Galt

    Gov. needs to get the hell out of the way of business. Their role is to serve as a referee, not a participant. The courts can resolve legal issues.

  • carlcasino

    Don’t start counting ammunition! I feel like I have a bunch of circles on my back as it is…