Gun purchases in 2019 exceeded all other years on record since 1998, according to the number of background checks.
The total number of background checks for 2019 was about 28.4 million—nearly the population of Texas. This is about 3% higher than the previous record of 27.5 million in 2016.
Background checks for every month during 2019 (except February and March) increased over the prior year. High numbers seen on Black Friday made gun sellers hopeful for the holidays, and indeed, December was the second-highest month on record for background checks.
The number of background checks performed by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) does not equate exactly to the number of gun purchases. This is because in most places only one background check would be required for a person purchasing multiple guns and the checks also are run for concealed-handgun permits and renewals in many states. However, the NICS numbers are still used as one of the few metrics available to gauge gun-buying activity.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) regularly analyzes the NICS statistics to remove background checks that are unlikely to represent gun purchases. The NSSF sets the estimated number of firearms purchases for 2019 at about 13.2 million, a small increase over the prior year, but not beating its estimate for 2016.
The previous record number of background checks in 2016 was largely attributed to it being an election year in which Hillary Clinton made restricting Second Amendment rights a significant part of her platform. The Democratic candidates for 2020 also have made it clear they favor further restrictions on gun rights, so firearms sales for this election cycle may continue trending upward in response.