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NICS Background Checks Skyrocket

HISTORIC NATURE OF 2020 TAKES SHAPE

WRITTEN BY JADE MOLDAE

Through the first half of 2020, NSSF-adjusted NICS background checks have been recorded at a blistering pace — with 10,292,725 checks conducted from Jan. 1 through June 30. This figure represents an astronomical jump over the same period in previous years (see chart). It’s a record for the first half of a calendar year, and not the only one set in the past few months. Here’s a snapshot:

• March 2020 resulted in 2,375,525 checks, a single-month record (the previous mark, 2,237,731, was recorded Dec. 2012).

• The last four months on record — March, April, May and June 2020 — are each top monthly marks in the NICS system’s 20-plus-year history.

• Year-over-year (YOY) increases for March, April, May and June 2020 have totaled 80.4%, 69.1%, 75.2% and 135.7%, respectively.

• On the subject of YOY increases, the 135% jump observed in June 2020 over June 2019 is another record (from 924,054 to 2,177,586). The previous top YOY change took place in Jan. 2013 over Jan. 2012, a 94% increase (920,840 to 1,790,154).

• Another first: 2020 is the first calendar year to have more than one month eclipse the 2-million adjusted background check threshold (March and June).

• In addition, this current six-month stretch is the most prolific on record — beating out a run from Nov. 2012–April 2013, when 9,874,332 checks were conducted. (This number will likely rise when March 2020–Aug. 2020 totals are factored in.)

• The unadjusted NICS figures are equally telling: June’s mark of 3,931,607 is a single-month record. Through June 30, 19,180,047 unadjusted checks were conducted, which would surpass every annual total recorded prior to 2012.

None of this is a surprise, however, to those on the industry’s front lines: the storefront dealer. For many dealers, the demand surges caused by the pandemic and social unrest have been nothing short of unprecedented.

“Interest is extremely high right now,” said David Rich, owner of Naples Gun Shop in Naples, Fla. “Compared to March and April, this rush has apparently decimated any remaining supply in the firearms industry.”

Rich continued, “This wave of new shooters appear to feel different than the wave of COVID-19 lockdown-concerned customers. The faces of my new customers show genuine signs of concern and worry, and they’ve all mentioned the protests and riots have brought them to my store. On a side note, the new customers have been a mixture of race and gender.”

Laurie Fettig, owner of T&L Tactical Firearms & Range in Manitowoc, Wis., offered similar sentiments.

“We’re absolutely seeing record sales over the past several months. We’ve doubled our sales numbers over last year, and could have tripled them if we could have kept our inventory levels up,” she said. “It’s been a struggle to keep products on the shelf and frustrating to have to turn customers away.  Inventory doesn’t stay on the shelf for more than a few hours.”

The demand isn’t limited to local buyers alone, Fettig noted. “We’ve also seen an influx of out-of-state buyers looking to ship to a local FFL in their area because they can’t find inventory. It’s insane how busy we are,” she added.

Skyler Thomas, manager of Virginia Beach, Va.-based Freedom Shooting Center, has noted a significant uptick in business — with first-time gun owners making up a large percentage of purchasers.

“Freedom Shooting Center, like many other outdoor sporting retailers, has experienced a significant increase in firearms, ammunition, training classes, and firearm accessory purchases,” he shared. “A great deal of these firearms purchasers have been first-time buyers. Many of the first-time buyers report that due to recent events, they feel compelled to better ensure the safety of themselves, their family, friends, and loved ones.”

While increased business from new buyers is welcome, Thomas cautioned it comes with an added sense of responsibility for dealers.

“The number of new gun buyers entering the shooting sports is very exciting, but it comes with great responsibility,” he said. “We’ll be offering free introductory firearms training to new gun owners, regardless of where their purchase was made.”

The wholesale distribution channel has likewise experienced a significant jump in demand.

“Wholesale distributors have adjusted and adapted rapidly from a health and safety perspective for their employees, and especially to meet the incredible demands from consumers,” said Kenyon Gleason, NASGW president. “As the largest sales channel in the firearms industry, distribution has been dealing with unprecedented requests and sales volumes. One distributor told me they’ve sold more in the first five months of this year than all of last year, and if they could get more product, sales would be even greater.”

But it’s not a universal surge. In this month’s Letters To The Editor, Jed Stump of Bertha, Minn., wrote in to share the increase for his store has been negligible through the pandemic and protests.

“Like everyone in the industry, I’m hearing there are many panic buys around the nation with this pandemic. I see the inventory of firearms and ammunition depleted through my distributors. However, I’m not seeing this uptick in my store,” he said. “I’m not complaining about being ‘left out’ … just a little confused with what I hear versus what I see.”

The industry has weathered significant ups and downs in its history, but the ramifications of this sustained demand swing — especially with tens of thousands of first-time gun owners being added in such a short period — will be felt for years. How the industry welcomes and reengages these new gun owners will be crucial.

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