RALEIGH — In 2020, firearm-related background checks, ammunition sales and gun sales all saw record numbers. The pace has continued this year with a record number of background checks performed in January 2021, according to data released by the FBI.
According to the FBI’s data, 4.3 million background checks were conducted, which surpasses the highest monthly total since the start of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) in 1998. Over 300 million checks have been performed since NICS began over 20 years ago.
The FBI’s figures for January show Illinois led the nation with over 1 million checks. Texas was the next closest with over 202,000. A total of 86,017 background check applications were processed in North Carolina — almost a 60% increase over the 53,819 reported in January 2020.
Sheriff’s offices across North Carolina struggled with increased demand for permits throughout 2020, many in counties with large urban centers like Wake County. On several occasions last year, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker pointed to the high numbers of applications as explanation for the delay in issuance of pistol purchase permits within the legislatively required 14-day window.
According to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO), 57,791 purchase permits were issued in 2020, a 373.68% increase over the 15,465 issued in 2019. WCSO Senior Communication Officer Eric Curry said that 2020’s total is more than all of 2017, 2018 and 2019 combined, which was 48,235.
The WCSO also said it received 15,579 carried concealed permits requests in 2020 and 10,039 in 2019.
2020’s record-breaking numbers of background checks were accompanied by surges in firearm sales, with a notable increase in first-time buyers.
Firearm retailers and trade organizations said that around 23 million firearms were sold in 2020. According to the Firearm Industry Trade Association, 40% of all 2020 gun sales, around 8.4 million, were to individuals who had previously never owned a firearm.
The Associated Press reported that over 2 million firearms were sold in January 2021 — a 75% increase from the same month in 2020.
Clay Ausley, owner of Fuquay Gun & Gold, said that he started preparing for 2020 in 2019 because he knew it was going to be “a record breaker” and that “every election year is a little crazier than the last.”
“I prepared. I overprepared. I thought I was ready for anything that could come up,” said Ausley. “And I was so underprepared it wasn’t even funny.”
Fuquay Gun & Gold has been in operation for 17 years in southern Wake County. The shop has around 39 employees. January 2021 was the busiest month on record for Fuquay Gun & Gold, save a small slow down at the end of the month. Sales have continued to rise again this month.
Ausley pointed to coronavirus worries, George Floyd protests and riots as drivers of increased sales.
Ammunition has disappeared from shelves at a steady rate for the better part of a year. Major producers of ammunition, including Remington, have said that they have large backlogs of orders due to steadily increasing demand. The pandemic did not help matters both in terms of production and distribution.
“Ammo is the biggest problem. It’s been so hard to get, it’s driven the price up,” said Ausley. He went on to say that people can’t afford to shoot and train because it is so costly right now when rounds are almost around a dollar a bullet.
Ausley noted that in 2020, 204-year-old gun-maker Remington had filed for bankruptcy and assets were shifted and sold, causing ammunition and product delays. He said that the Lake City plant, which produces ammunition for the military and sells surplus to the public, also changed hands in 2020 and that exacerbated the low ammunition supply situation.
“I usually go through 500 rounds in a training session and that’s $500 bucks when you’re getting close to that dollar mark, and most people just can’t do it,” Ausley said. He also mentioned that election years tend to spark hoarding of ammunition and other supplies.
Prior to the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, a nationwide Second Amendment sanctuary movement swept through at least 20 states and hundreds of local governments in response to gun control rhetoric and proposed legislation in certain states. By the end of March 2020, 73 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and at least three towns had passed some form of Second Amendment protection or affirmation resolution.
The Second Amendment movement may see a resurgence as President Joe Biden has recently promised potential gun bans, ammunition capacity related bans, and taxes on gun and ammunition sales, both before and after the election.
On Feb. 14, the anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Biden issued a statement that his administration “will not wait for the next mass shooting.”
“Today, I am calling on Congress to enact commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets,” Biden’s statement said.
Prior to Biden’s statement, on Feb. 10, leaders of gun-opponent groups Brady.org and Gifford’s met with Biden Administration officials Susan Rice and Cedric Richmond and later issued statements that they believe Biden will take executive action.