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By Larry Keane

It’s been widely established that law-abiding Americans are buying firearms at record levels. No one disputes it. Gun control groups decry the trend. Supporters of the Second Amendment celebrate it. But during the past 18 months, the fact is a historic number of Americans have taken ownership of their self-defense and that includes millions of first-time buyers who bought a gun.

Leave it to staunch gun control advocate and billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s agitprop bullhorn The Trace to “report” on a new “survey” severely downplaying what’s happening.

Missing By a Mile

Antigun billionaire Michael Bloomberg funds 70 percent of The Trace’s operations through his gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Now in typical fashion, The Trace received a pre-release summary of new survey data from Northeastern and Harvard University researchers — both bastions of gun control groupthink — that claim to speak with authority about the volume of first-time firearm owners that arose since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

michael bloomberg angry johns hopkins
(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)

The Joyce Foundation, a “gun violence prevention” private foundation, hosted an exclusive data call “to journalists and advocates.” The CliffsNotes summary is astounding: the two universities found there’s been no surge in the number of first-time gun buyers in America.

“3.8 million Americans became first-time gun owners in 2020, according to preliminary findings from a new survey of 19,000 people. That group accounted for 23 percent of all gun buyers last year, up slightly from 17 percent in 2019,” the article purports.

NSSF’s data shows around 20 percent of gun buyers are first-timers in a normal year. In 2020, it was double that. But with the Joyce Foundation’s “research,” as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.

Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

This isn’t the first time The Joyce Foundation has used the same antigun playbook to run the “exclusive survey results” teaser play. They previously partnered with the same Northwestern and Harvard University players as well. The group organized a similar press call in 2016, that time with The Guardian and The Trace, to push another fallacy, suggesting that only three percent of American gun owners hold 50 percent of the firearms.

“But the new [unpublished] survey estimates that [out of 265 million] 133m of these guns are concentrated in the hands of just 3% of American adults – a group of super-owners who have amassed an average of 17 guns each,” the Guardian reported.

The survey remained unpublished for good reason. At that time, Pew polling showed nearly 45 percent of American households possessed firearms. Gallup and other polling suggested the same.

Joyce Foundation Logo

Not surprisingly, Joyce wouldn’t release the full survey and ignored requests seeking clarification. Obfuscating survey methodology and access to the complete data is their game, which makes review of this current survey’s claims impossible. The objective of the recent survey is clear: quell any claim that first-time firearm ownership grew significantly during the pandemic.

Given the leadership of The Joyce Foundation, the researchers involved and the “news” outlet used in the ruse, the message and motive here are clear. The Joyce Foundation “financed scholarships for law schools to promote a legal theory that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual’s right to bear arms, claiming the amendment guaranteed a state government’s right to arm an organized militia,” according to InfluenceWatch.org.

When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the individual right to keep and bear arms under Heller, The Joyce Foundation switched tactics, labeling gun control as a “public health” issue. Joyce donated millions to the antigun group Violence Policy Center.

Here’s the kicker. Joyce also gave “tens of millions of dollars to fund more than 100 anti-gun grants to researchers at Harvard University, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Freedom States Alliance, Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence, the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence, and Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort. In past years, the organization has devoted 10 percent of its outlays to gun control grants,” according to InfluenceWatch.org.

The board of directors and day-to-day leadership include gun control advocates and even former President Barack Obama was on the board from 1994-2002. He’s hardly neutral on gun ownership.

The pattern here is clear.

The Truth Is…

The truth is Americans — of all stripes, demographics and backgrounds — turned up at gun retailers and exercised their Second Amendment right by purchasing a firearm in historic numbers. This includes more than 8.4 million first-time buyers in 2020 alone.

gun store sales
A customer looks at a 9mm pistol at Richie’s Pawn Central in Middletown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Dan Sewell)

That number is even higher now through the first half of 2021. Those figures come from data obtained from industry retailer surveys and observed by many other corroborating journalistic reports.

Reporting on the continued surge of buying, NPR included a comment from April, 2021 summing up the trend. “My gun store has had a run like I’ve never seen before,” said Todd Cotta, the owner of Kings Gun Center in Hanford, California. “It was just an avalanche of new gun buyers for the first time.”

What’s Really Driving Sales?

It’s widely reported by numerous credible news outlets that Americans were concerned for their safety throughout 2020 due to overlapping circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, community violence, and continued calls to defund the police. Presidential election politics and threats of increased gun control legislation boosted firearm sales even more.

It’s not surprising The Joyce Foundation, universities cashing on their research dollars, or The Trace want to minimize gun ownership in America. They know they’re increasingly irrelevant. Of course, they’ll lash out. In the mean time, the firearm industry will continue to celebrate law-abiding Americans choosing to exercise their rights and encourage them to do so safely.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.



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  1. I think I agree with The Trace. Nothing to see here. I didn’t just buy a truck bed full of toys. Bye now!

  2. and 50% of all households that claim to not have a gun LIE on all BS gun control surveys.

    • Whatever the number is add 2.5% of all US citizens to it from first time buyers in 2020. Looking to keep that pace so long as stores are willing to sell here in NY with our end run around the PLCA headed to the governor.

  3. My own experience from 2020 was an explosion of first time buyers. Even gun grabbers themselves gunned up. I remember last July during the height of pandemic, stopping by my local gun shop to pick up a revolver and there were 4 people in there asking about “how do I get a permit?”. People who thought it was easier to buy a gun than a bag of celery learned a quick lesson. The stories I heard from local gun shop owners “Can I put it on layaway while I get my permit?” “Can I just put down a deposit for now?”, etc etc.

    Every time I have been to the gun shop even during the middle of the day it was packed with people buying everything on the shelves. The last time I stopped in to pick up my 1911 it was still wall to wall people.

    • Still seeing the shops packed with people, many buying their first firearm. I know in my neighborhood 5 of my close neighbors became 1st time buyers. We are not in a high crime area, quite the opposite. But we are in a very conservative area.

      Having filled out many 4473 forms over the years I have not seen anything like the last year and a half. Shops with empty racks and display cases, even the local Cabela’s and other sporting shops. For a time on-line was even iffy. Those shelves are starting to fill again and you can find most anything on-line now.

      And the shops are still packed.

    • Same experience here in CA. I bought a new shotgun and then a revolver right before the lockdown. It surprised me at the near panic non gun owners were in at that point.

      The conversation between a non gun owner and the shop guy went something like this.

      ‘I have to have a Firearms Safety Certificate to buy a gun? I’ve never heard of that.’

      “Yes, you do. I cannot sell you a gun without it and there is a 10 day waiting period.”

      ‘What? I can’t just buy it and walk out with it?’


      ‘OK. I want a Glock.’

      “Sorry, sold out of those a day ago.”

      ‘Can I contact Glock and have one sent to my house?’

      “Seriously? No. All I have left in stock are some revolvers and one S&W 9mm.”

      And the half dozen or so guys and gals clutching their plastic and waiting for him to be done simply asked nearly identical questions. It was very lemming like.

  4. Hmmm, a super-owner is someone with an average of 17 firearms.

    Out of curiosity, what is the next designation / category of owner above 17?

    Asking for a friend.

    • A collector

      And it doesn’t matter if they are newer type of firearms. I explain it to my wife this way every time I see a firearm I want, “it will fit in my safe” and she is good.

      Then 6 months ago I told her I needed another safe. She asked what for. I said I saw an article that said you shouldn’t store pistols with rifles, it gives them an inferiority complex.

      • Thanks for the chuckle!

        Hope your explanation worked better for your spouse than it did for mine…all I got was raised eyebrows and a mildly sarcastic “uh-huh”. Bless her, she gave up years ago trying to edumacate me on the difference between “need” versus “want”.

        I find it entertaining when I read of the Media’s collective gasp of self-righteous horror when a home is searched and 800 rounds of ammunition are seized….shame on me, I believe that I have close to twice that amount of boolits…*shudder*

        • I figure if you have the funds then the wants are okay.

          That’s how I convinced her I needed a cabinet for ammo as well, they need to be together so they don’t get lonely. Except if I counted each round it is no longer a village but more like a city. It’s easy to build a stock especially if you shoot a lot. You have to maintain the food supply for those hungry firearms.

        • @Gersh

          Agreed. My hobby has never interfered with a roof over my family’s heads, food for their stomachs, clothes, shoes, vacations or education.

          Yes Sir, my range time has been put on an involuntary diet over the past year…forcing me to plan better quality / more relevant goal-directed training. The use of a shot timer has helped me to focus on shot placement v time with fewer overall rounds expended.

  5. The crowds are still at the gunshops…not like last year but very busy. Especially at Westforth in rural Gary,IN. And they quit layaway a year ago. Lots & lots of new owner’s including my clueless 70 year friend. I did my bit with 2 gun purchases. Can’t imagine if they had plentiful cheap ammo!!!

  6. With the added tax online I find myself putting items back like in my days of living on ramen noodles. Get to checkout and see $22.00 added tax and that prompts removing items until the total fits my budget and the least amount as possible goes to worthless tax bassturds.

    • I live in Oregon, which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

      Good thing is no sales tax, not even for online ammo or firearms.

      Bad thing is even though in a sense we are pretty free in the sense of gun rights, they are working daily to curtail them. They tried to really shut down with COVID bs and took a 10 minute background check and turn it into as long as two weeks. It’s getting better. Goofy thing is half the time I get instant approval and other times put into the que for approval. Makes no sense as nothing with my background has changed.

      • Does an Oregon CHL allow you to skip NICS like we can do in MT? It’s really convenient not to worry about delays, NICS being down, political shenanigans, etc. Present your MT Driver’s License and your MT CWP and 15 minutes later you are out the door with your purchase.

        • No skipping in Oregon even with a CHL which makes no sense at all. And when COVID shut everything down there was an 8 month delay to get a CHL in the county I am in. It’s gotten better, they are down to 3 months now.

          Our backgrounds are ran through the State Police (FICS) system. But the governor redirected the staff to help with the riots which were a nightly event for over a year. They are getting better, but slowly.

      • Give never had a delay in at least 25 background checks in my 10years of gun buying. Perhaps having a rare name helps. And Illinois & Indiana checks. Knock on my wooden head😏

  7. @Gersh

    Wow. Talk about a passive-aggressive approach by the State to ignoring Oregonian’s Rights. “Um, try again next year, we’re too busy to perform our tax-funded and designated jobs at this time”.

  8. A couple of the local gun shops here in gulf coast AL have mostly empty displays and do little more than back ground checks as receiving FFL’s for online orders. Talked with the young lady who owns the shop I use. She is having difficulty getting ammo and guns both. Can’t compete with the big online retailers and places like Bass Pro and Academy for quantity discounts. She does sell almost everything she does get in quickly. Even some of the cheap import junk.
    At least here in Al all you need is an approved background check and cash in hand to buy. No wait or other foolishness.

  9. I wonder how many people will see that headline and think, “Huh, I guess I was the only one.” I hope more think, “I know lots of us who got them. I guess the anti really do just make $#!+ up.”

    The antis need to get their story straight. They spent months telling first time buyers they’ll kill themselves or their loved ones. Warnings that people would leave loaded guns in cribs or accidentally fire a shot that hits an orphan nun standing on the corner. Even Chipman got in on the act.

    The surge is far from over. Are they going to keep trying to scare people not to get their first gun, or are they going to close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and go, “Naa naa naa naa. I can’t hear you.”?

  10. Oh man, we need a super owner t-shirt. TTAG, make this happen. I’ll take an XL.

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