The Truth about Gun Sales: What Can We Gather?

Are gun sales up or down?

Well, as an article recently published in Reuters pointed out, it depends on whom you ask.

For instance, if you were to ask officials over at the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) they would tell you that gun sales were up in 2011 from 2010.

They would argue that based on the increase in the number of background checks in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

However, they would also tell you that using the NICS as a means to track actual gun sales is an inexact science.  There are certain limitations to using the NICS as not every background check entered in the system results in the purchase of a handgun.  For example, some background checks are done for the issuance of a concealed carry permit.

But even after factoring in those limitations, the NSSF declared that 2011 was a record year for gun sales with purchases in Dec. topping 1.4 million.

nssf adjusted nics data chart

If you asked advocates at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence whether gun sales are on the rise or decline, they would tell you that gun ownership has been on a steady decline for years.

They would point to a survey (the General Social Survey) conducted by the National Opinions Research Center, which found that just “20.8% of Americans owned a firearm in 2010. This is down substantially from the 1980 figure of 29%”.

decline in household gun ownership chart

Lastly, if you asked the government whether gun sales were up or down over the past several years, the best it could do, would be to give you excise taxes paid on gun sales and imports in the private sector (military and law enforcement are excluded from the tax).

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, a division of the U.S. Treasury, told Reuters that “Total excise taxes were roughly $3.2 billion 2010, down from roughly $4.5 billion in 2009. The full figures aren’t in for 2011, but the running tally for the first three quarters is roughly $2.9 billion.”

So the question is, are gun sales up or down?

My answer is that it doesn’t really matter.  Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true because certain market trends can effect supply and demand, which ultimately impacts price.  Trying to buy your ‘grail’ gun in bull market can cost you an arm and a leg (so to some extent, you can gauge the market by how easy/difficult it is to get much-coveted firearms).

handguns displayed at gun show tableBut politically speaking, gun sales are irrelevant to gun owners.  We don’t really care whether they’re up or down.  That is because we don’t attach significance to gun sales the way politically driven organizations tend to, i.e. “gun sales are on the decline = argument for gun control.”

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we have the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  And despite what some may argue, gun sales do not in any way impact this fundamental right.

However, if we want to make a political point about gun ownership in America, we can simply point to the fact that, on a per capita basis, we have more guns than any other nation in the world.  We have approximately 90 guns per 100 people in this country.  By all accounts we are a gun-loving, Constitutional Republic, a down year or two in gun sales is not going to change that

(Side Note: I’ve argued that gun ownership in the U.S. is on the rise).

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