January 27, 2023

Some will look at December’s adjusted background check (gun sales) total and note that it’s lower than five other Decembers in the past decade. Others will see more than 1.7 million civilian-owned firearms — over 4.5 added in the fourth quarter — and see that Americans’ desire for gun ownership is still quite healthy.

As the NSSF’s Mark Oliva told us . . .

The total of over 16.4 million background checks completed for the sale of a firearm in 2022 demonstrated that while retail sales of firearms were lower than the record shattering years of 2020 and 2021, there continues to be a strong desire from law-abiding Americans to purchase the firearms of their choice. This trend is similar to what NSSF has witnessed in the past.

When a new ceiling is reached on background checks for retail gun sales, the market settles to a “new normal.” That new normal typically exceeds what the trend line seen before the spike. In this case, there were nearly 13.2 million before the 2020 and 2021 spike. The 16.4 million figure shows that the industry continues to meet a signal from the today’s gun buyers.

Here’s the NSSF’s press release announcing the numbers . . .

The December 2022 NSSF-adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figure of 1,747,506 is a decrease of 2.5 percent compared to the December 2021 NSSF-adjusted NICS figure of 1,792,797. For comparison, the unadjusted December 2022 FBI NICS figure 2,995,715 reflects a 2.7 percent decrease from the unadjusted FBI NICS figure of 3,080,295 in December 2021.

The fourth quarter 2022 NSSF-adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figure of 4,532,341 reflects a decrease of 4.9 percent over the 4,763,439 figure for fourth quarter 2021.

The 2022 annual adjusted NICS total of 16,425,484 represents the third highest year on record, exceeded by 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Please note: Twenty-four states currently have at least one qualified alternative permit, which under the Brady Act allows the permit-holder, who has undergone a background check to obtain the permit, to purchase a firearm from a licensed dealer without a separate additional background check for that transfer. The number of NICS checks in these states does not include these legal transfers based on qualifying permits and NSSF does not adjust for these transfers.

The adjusted NICS data were derived by subtracting out NICS purpose code permit checks and permit rechecks used by states for CCW permit application checks as well as checks on active CCW permit databases. NSSF started subtracting permit rechecks in February 2016.

Though not a direct correlation to firearms sales, the NSSF-adjusted NICS data provide an additional picture of current market conditions. In addition to other purposes, NICS is used to check transactions for sales or transfers of new or used firearms. 

It should be noted that these statistics represent the number of firearm background checks initiated through the NICS. They do not represent the number of firearms sold or sales dollars. Based on varying state laws, local market conditions and purchase scenarios, a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a firearm background check and a firearm sale. 

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