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May 2018 set a new record for the number of National Instant Background Checks conducted by the FBI with a total of 2,002,992. The next highest May was in 2017, at 1,942,677. Before that, the next highest May was in 2016, at 1,870,000. Notice a trend?

There were numerous predictions that President Trump would preside over an era of decreasing firearm sales. In fact, firearm sales dropped a little from the record levels in the 2016 presidential election year, but not much. 2017 had the second highest ever yearly total NICS checks. 2018 is trending higher than 2017. In 2017, at the end of May, the total NICS checks were 10,699,334. In 2018, they are 11,357,627. That is 97% of the number of the top year, 2016, 11,698,006.

Ninety-seven percent of the the all time record does not a bad year make.

One reason is the booming Trump economy, with the stock market at new highs, unemployment at record lows, and consumer confidence soaring.

Combine the good economic news with the push by Democrats and the left/media for more restrictions on gun ownership and use, and the record numbers make sense. Much of the push for gun bans and restrictions are for modern sporting rifles such as the AR-15 and clones. These rifles, as a class, are the most popular rifles in the United States. They are one of the most easily recognizable rifles in the nation. Millions of Americans own them and shoot them. It may be that millions more Americans want them, but haven’t purchased them yet.

Highly restrictive laws on ownership and use have passed in California, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Those states have Democrat administrations. It does not take a doctorate in political science for Americans in other states to understand the potential if Democrats are elected in their state.

When more restrictive laws are pushed nationally and locally, many who have been considering gun purchases are motivated to take the next step.

NICS numbers do not translate directly into increases in the private stock of guns in the United States. Many NICS checks are done on guns that are in the existing stock. Gun stores do NICS checks on guns that have been traded in, purchased from an estate, or sold on consignment. Many NICS checks are done for people who obtain carry permits. In half of the states, once the NICS check is done for a carry permit, more NICS checks are not required for further purchases as long as the carry permit is valid.

Also, one NICS check can be used to purchase multiple firearms in one transaction.

The estimate for the number of privately owned firearms in the United States at the end of 2017 was 418 million. In the first five months of 2018, using a conservative estimate of .56 new guns for each NICS check, over 6 million additional firearms have been added. That brings the estimated total to 424 million so far. The total is likely to exceed 430 million guns by the end of 2018.

The number of private firearms in the United States has been calculated using the method pioneered by Newton and Zimring, then extended by Dr. Gary Kleck in his seminal work, “Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America” Table 2.1.

The methodology used by Kleck was applied to  the figures obtained from the ATF for years after 1987.  The number shown is the cumulative addition of domestic manufacture plus imports minus exports.  This does not count guns shipped to the U.S. military.   The figures are rounded to the nearest million. The figures for 2017 and 2018 are estimated from the NICS checks.

©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch 

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  1. The only trend is the larger number of states with mandatory background check laws than the previous year. The gun owning public is growing, and has grown yugely in the last decade; this is incontrovertible. So of course sales are going to remain historically high, until the last decade is history. But BCGs are a terrible measure of actual gun commerce, being utterly drenched in politics and selection bias.

    Does NSSF or some other industry group do raw production numbers or receipts, collected/estimated monthly? Almost anything would be more accurate than NICS numbers.

    • The ATF collects information on total firearms manufactured, imported, and exported.

      By law, it withholds that information for a bit over a year, to protect proprietary information.


      It’s likely the POS (D) finally understanding that the blue areas of the country are surrounded by their dictatorial communist ‘rulers’, and those are surrounded by in-crossable red areas of ‘death-to-communists’ no-mans-land.

      • HEY T T A G web-people

        TTAG comments’ “auto-correct” always changes “Un-” to “In-“.

        Un-F that, will ya?

  2. Bu-bu-bu-but what about that EOTWAWKI Trump Slump that I read about time and time and time again right here on TTAG?

    Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all.

    • Ask Remington (Bankruptcy), or Ruger ($140 million less in sales revenue in ’17 vs. ’16), or any of the other gun companies how revenues have been during Trump. Just because they are selling near as many guns, doesn’t mean the industry isn’t hurting. Prices have come way down, and incentives are also up. That’s what’s keeping the sales somewhat level, but revenues are down.

      • Remington now a days is making crap. That’s the reason for the bankruptcy. Their good old standby, the 870 Wingmaster, plastic parts. Glad I’ve got mine from the 70’s, true blue.
        Not sure about the 700 BDL’s. Mine from the early 70’s, a classic.

        Ruger’s, can’t say. Mine are decades old, haven’t looked at the newer ones. But my Red Label in 12 Ga., is beautiful wood and wood to metal fit.

        My guess is both company’s have gone cheaper to try and compete with the foreign crap out there.

        • You’re speculating and assuming. I just presented two cases with facts. I highly doubt Ruger’s philosophy changed so drastically between ’16 and ’17 that it was the quality reduction that caused them to drop $140M in sales year over year. Another case in point: Smith & Wesson’s profits in the last quarter of ’17 dropped 90% compared to the same quarter in ’16. Their overall revenue declined by 36% year over year. If anything, their products got better with the release of M&P 2.0 pistols, improved M&P 15 Sport II, etc. It’s a fact: gun sales revenues are down, probably across the board. I’ve given three examples of the two biggest firearms manufacturers (Ruger and S&W) and Remington (top 5ish) in the US. Many of the other manufacturers are private so their numbers are harder to track down.

        • Flamencod. no I’m not speculating. I talked about Remington and their 870. !st hand knowledge. I said I didn’t know about their Model 700.
          Do you you remember what happened to Winchester? In 1964 they went cheap. And lost the faith of the shooting public. The pre 64’s now draw a premium. How many times has Winchester changed hands since, with their weapons now made in Japan.
          I also said I didn’t know about Ruger as I have mine and haven’t been in the market. I was suggesting the possibility as I had no first hand knowledge. That is not speculation. Remington, for sure as their flagship shotgun was the 870. Since I said I didn’t know about Ruger, that was a suggestion, but not speculation.

        • “There’s no way the industry’s hurting, after all I haven’t bought a gun in years!”

      • Before the AWB, a half-way decent AR was ~ $500, those same ARs are now tipping $2,000. If you, as a manufacturer, thought you were going to go gang-busters at those prices, you obviously don’t know your market, which has reluctantly bought some higher priced models, while waiting for things to ‘get back to “normal” ‘. $3K for a .308 WIN SCAR? F that. but $1,200+ for a POS gas-impinged FU.

        • My thoughts exactly. I was looking at prices for AR’s in various gun-mags at the bookstore. I understand qualitative differences but 3K for an AR seems a bit much. There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the marketplace.

  3. Wow! Four old fat white guys bought all those guns?

    The blue wave is going to drown them weighted down with all that iron. 😉

  4. There were numerous predictions that President Trump would preside over an era of decreasing firearm sales.

    There were numerous predictions that putting Trump in the White House and Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate would enable us to pass bills rolling back gun control. A year and a half later, we’ve managed to pass…

      • + This. Don’t forget Congress too. And you got the C*ck-bags in it for themselves. McConnel, KY (but working for China)

  5. Although far from an exhaustive survey the 2 gun shops I went to last week(Gary and Griffith,Indiana) were indeed crowded with gunbuyers. And background checks galore. Took me awhile to get waited on at both…all on a Wednesday afternoon.

  6. i hope that new york makes it easier,to get a ccw now they ask you what you want it for,you tell them to protect you and your family,they say not good enough you have to show cause.i hate it here and have lived here all my life.want to leave but can,t right now,to an easier ccw state.and yes i,v been making the calls and the emails,to all the corrupt politicans,and this treasonous mayor and governor.cmon.and going down to 1 police plaza for gun license is terrible,cmon mr trump help us out,

    • I always liked the statement (for ccw “reason”):


      jk, the only reason you need anything more than a “FU Stupid, What’s it to ya” is because your stupid asshole neighbors who needed a job (your ‘government’) hate you and don’t trust you, and are tyrannizing you, and you haven’t killed them for it, burnt their shit, and hunted their kids. NOTE: If they get any closer to selling that stupid shit elsewhere in America, many of the rest of us may want to cure that stupid shit with a lot of wanton violence, and you all look alike. Un-fuck yer shit NY / NYC.

    • me either…don’t need to…but there are a lot of “newbies” out there…and they seem to prefer the black guns…and pistols….lots of pistols….

  7. And these figures don’t count states like Utah which don’t use NICS. Our firearms transactions are run through our state DOJ, and never leave the state. And on top of that, there are no DROs fees if the purchaser is a current CCW permit holder. Eat your heart out.

    • On the other hand these figures probably do include state of Illinois, where every FOID holder gets NICS check every night except major holidays. Concealed carry licensees get two. That’s 720 background checks per person if he doesn’t buy any guns that year.

  8. Dean – I posted these stats above, but not sure if you’ll see these so I’m making a separate individual post:

    Ask three of the biggest firearms manufacturer’s about the slump:

    Remington – bankruptcy
    Ruger – revenue dropped $140 million in ’17 compared to ’16
    Smith & Wesson – profits in the last quarter of ’17 dropped 90% compared to the same quarter in ’16. Their overall revenue declined by 36% year over year.

    • Comparing numbers to the record setting 2016 might give you a gloomy feeling. Prospect of self proclaimed gun grabber in White House made that year an outlier.

      Yes, guns are sold a bit less than in ’16, but still way more than (already inflated by Obama) previous years levels.
      Yes, to move guns accumulated in warehouses (in expectation of buying frenzy after Hillary’s inevitable victory) the manufacturers dropped prices and profits dropped with them. Politics skew free market.

      Result – lots of cheaper guns being sold to public. For us consumers that’s a good thing.

    • I think they meant MAY compared to other MAYs past.

      But yes, we all do a lot better when TTAG keeps to the ‘no math’ principle.

  9. I’ve been saying for a few years now that civilian firearms ownership is well over 400 million. Now I’d guess closer to a half a billion. There’s been about 290,000 NICS checks since the program started 20 years in 1998. Fornthe first 10 years or so, just about every NICS check represented a new transfer. Only in the last decade has NICS become useful in other areas (permit checks, etc). It’s silly to think that from the inception of our country until 1998 there wasn’t close to 200 million already in circulation. And as the article mentioned, today NICS is used for permitting and transferring used firearms. I’d venture to say that it’s still a 1 to one ratio based on multiple firearms that are transferred on 1 check, though. The gun grabbers always give numbers in the upper 200 million because it’s an easier mountain to climb convincing people that collecting 200+ million guns isn’t that hard. It’s a tougher task when in reality there’s closer to a half a billion. And finally, they casually/intentionally dismiss that there’s 100 million owners, by saying only 1/3 of Americans own guns. They scoff at a minority 33% of the population that controls a majority of those that don’t own guns. But let’s not forget that nearly 1/3 of the US population is under 18. And maybe 20% of the population combined are either prohibited or live in states where ownership is supremely difficult. Based on this type of accounting, I’d estimate that substantially more than half the eligible adults in the US own at least 1 firearm. Let’s also not forget that in this divisive and politically polarized climate, gun owners have an incentive to either demur or to outright lie when polled on these kind of questions. So what ever the polls or “educated estimates” are, you can be sure the numbers are wildly underreported.

    • About 24% of the population is under 18. That leaves about 248M potential gun owners. If 100M people own guns in the U.S., that’s about 40% gun ownership rate for people 18+. Seems about right to me.

    • 290,000 NICS checks in 20 years?
      Sounds about right for the county I live in, what about the rest of the country?


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