The early part of 2020 has been unlike any other year for firearm purchases—particularly by first-time buyers—as new NSSF research reveals millions of people chose to purchase their first gun during the COVID-19 pandemic.
January 2020 started out with a strong SHOT Show, followed by buzz surrounding background check figures on firearms with NSSF-adjusted NICS data showing year-over-year increases of 19 percent in January and 17 percent in February.
Mid-March brought the COVID-19 pandemic to the front of every news cycle, and firearm sales during this time were a lead story. Thanks in large part to the work done by NSSF’s legislative team, the firearms industry was deemed essential in most states, and firearm retailers were allowed to stay open to conduct business.
And conduct business they did, with NSSF-adjusted NICS figures showing year-over-year increases of 80 percent in March and 69 percent in April 2020. These strong increases led to more than 6.5 million NSSF-adjusted background checks in the first four months of 2020, up 48 percent from 4.4 million during the same period in 2019.
NSSF has been the go-to source for information on the firearm industry, providing insights on topics such as women gun owners, first-time gun buyers and shooting sports participation for more than a decade. In May 2020, NSSF surveyed firearm retailers to learn more about what they were seeing pertaining to sales during the first four months of 2020.
Not surprisingly, retailers reported an increased number of first-time gun buyers, estimating that 40 percent of their sales were to this group. This is an increase of 67 percent over the annual average of 24-percent first-time gun buyers that retailers have reported in the past. Semiautomatic handguns were the primary firearm being purchased by first-time buyers, outpacing the second-most purchased firearm, shotguns, by a 2 to 1 margin. Modern sporting rifles, revolvers and traditional rifles rounded out the top five types of firearms purchased by first-time gun buyers.
Retailers noted that these new customers were spending $595 on an average sale and that 40 percent of first-time gun buyers in the first four months of 2020 were female. The main purchase driver among the group was personal protection, followed by target shooting and hunting. Also of note was that 25 percent of first-time buyers had already taken some form of firearms safety course and 63 percent inquired about taking a firearms safety course in the near future.
All this equates to more than 2.5 million new gun owners in a very short period of time. Past NSSF research has shown that in order to keep these new owners active and avoid them becoming lapsed participants, they will need information on topics such as how to safely own, operate and secure their new purchase.
Additionally, these new gun owners will need an invitation to go to the range or to the field to learn about firearm safety, personal protection and the recreational side of gun ownership, so be sure to add a +ONE and invite some of these first-time gun owners with you as the nice weather returns and social distancing requirements are relaxed.
Jim Curcuruto is Director of Research and Market Development for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.