The Capitol Hill insurrection and the inauguration of a Democratic president who campaigned on strengthening gun control measures helped the firearms industry set a January gun sales record last month, according to data released Monday.
Gun merchants sold more than 2 million firearms in January, a 75% increase over the estimated 1.2 million guns sold in January 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Federation, a firearms industry trade group.
The FBI said it conducted a record 4.3 million background checks in January. If that pace continues, the bureau will complete more than 50 million gun-related background checks by the end of the year, shattering the current record set in 2020, according to a new report from Bespoke Investment Group.
The NSSF, which cross references reported background checks with actual sales figures to come up with its more-accurate, adjusted gun sales data, said three of the top 10 weeks for FBI instant criminal background checks came last month.
The only three months on record when more FBI gun background checks were conducted were January 2013, when Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, and this past June and July following the police killing of George Floyd, according to the FBI.
But NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva said President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign rhetoric about banning AR-15s and requiring gun owners to register their weapons to comply with the National Firearms Act has left some gun owners more fearful that their ability to buy guns and ammunition may soon be curtailed.
"They're going to act while they can to be able to buy what they want," Oliva told CNN Business. "It can't be discounted that many of these background checks for the purchase of a firearm are attributed to threats by the Biden administration to enact the most radical and far-reaching gun control agenda ever proposed."
Stocks in gun manufacturers surged on January 6 when Trump supporters raided the US Capitol Building, leading to the deaths of five people, including an on-duty police officer. But Bespoke said neither of the two most-notable publicly traded gun manufacturers, Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger, have performed that well in recent months. Stocks in both companies are well below their 52-week highs, according to Bespoke.
"Valuations for both SWBI and RGR are at multi-year lows," the investment firm wrote in one of its latest Chart of the Day reports. "These low multiples may well be warranted given that the gun manufacturers face a higher level of regulatory risk in the coming years with Democrats having full control in Washington."
Oliva said ongoing fears of social unrest that began in 2020 also likely played a role in January's record-setting sales figures.
"I think there's still concerns for safety," he said. "There's people who fear they're not going to be able to provide their own safety."
Brandon Wexler, 51, owner of Wex Gunworks, in Delray Beach, Florida, said gun sales at his store have been "off the wall" since the pandemic began last March, but purchases peaked in early January when customers expressed anxiety about Biden's inauguration.
"I think that there was fear of social unrest because of the supporters on both sides of the fence," Wexler told CNN Business. "Fear increased demand. Demand increased sales."
Anxiety over the Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd caused an unprecedented surge in first-time gun owners in 2020. Bespoke analysts said there's a fairly direct connection between Americans' level of uncertainty and the number of guns they buy.
"Obviously, January was a pretty hectic month, so it's understandable that the pace of background checks was so high," Bespoke analysts wrote in their report. "While we would expect that pace to slow down in the months ahead, the way things have been in the last several months, who knows what the next several months will bring?"
The record-setting January follows a record-setting year for US gun sales. The FBI conducted an estimated 39.7 million gun-related instant background checks last year, shattering the previous record of more than 27 million gun background checks in 2016, the year many expected Hillary Clinton, a pro-gun control Democrat, would win the White House. Bespoke says the year-over-year increase in monthly FBI gun-related background checks was at least 24% every month throughout 2020.
Both Oliva and Wexler said they expect continued attempts to increase gun control will lead to continued increases in gun sales under Biden.
"Obama was the best gun salesman in the country," Wexler said. "Covid was the next best. And now I think Joe Biden is going to be the ultimate gun salesman."