Last year, Americans bought 38.9 million guns, the second-highest year since data began to be kept by the FBI in 1998. It is only topped by 2020 when the number was 39.7 million. The best proxy for gun sales in America is the FBI’s NICS Firearms Background Check. Very few people who go through this check are denied permission to purchase weapons.

The number of guns sold in the United States since the start of 1998 is staggering. Through the end of last year, the figure reached 411.6 million, or over 20% more than the U.S. population. This number comes close to matching the 2018 report from the Small Arms Survey. It puts gun ownership in the U.S. at 393 million, or 46% of the global total of guns owned by civilians. Also, guns sold before 1998 are not included in the FBI number, nor are guns bought illegally, so even the agency’s number may be low.

Except for last year, sales have increased since 1999. Annual sales first topped 25 million in 2016, 20 million in 2013, 15 million in 2011 and 10 million in 2006. In 1999, the first full year the FBI kept data, sales totaled 9,138,123.

Why are 2020 and 2021 the highest years of gun sales on record? Experts have several opinions. Anxiety about personal safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic might be a cause. So might the national unrest that has sprung up around the nation in the past two years. The number of hate crimes also has increased.

Two demographic groups have been partially responsible for the increase. These are women and Black Americans. According to WTHR: “In the first six months of 2021, nearly 87% of gun stores nationwide had an increase in African American women buying firearms,” according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

FBI not only tracks gun sales. It keeps records by state, and sales are uneven from state to state. Last year, 8,476,505 guns were sold in Illinois. That is about 22% of sales (background) checks, in a state that has 4% of the U.S. population.

Here are gun sales by state in 2021:

  • Alabama (946,271)
  • Alaska (91,207)
  • Arizona (563,763)
  • Arkansas (288,706)
  • California (1,476,073)
  • Colorado (628,811)
  • Connecticut (277,250)
  • Delaware (69,068)
  • District of Columbia (12,910)
  • Florida (1,711,685)
  • Georgia (806,912)
  • Guam (4,518)
  • Hawaii (17,707)
  • Idaho (273,762)
  • Illinois (8,474,505)
  • Indiana (1,815,531)
  • Iowa (266,678)
  • Kansas (230,168)
  • Kentucky (3,848,061)
  • Louisiana (401,345)
  • Maine (129,193)
  • Mariana Islands (364)
  • Maryland (267,753)
  • Massachusetts (259,248)
  • Michigan (970,990)
  • Minnesota (945,299)
  • Mississippi (323,319)
  • Missouri (634,191)
  • Montana (160,640)
  • Nebraska (90,676)
  • Nevada (186,578)
  • New Hampshire (151,853)
  • New Jersey (223,437)
  • New Mexico (194,989)
  • New York (464,575)
  • North Carolina (781,733)
  • North Dakota (80,546)
  • Ohio (851,887)
  • Oklahoma (416,514)
  • Oregon (454,133)
  • Pennsylvania (1,408,165)
  • Puerto Rico (74,381)
  • Rhode Island (37,936)
  • South Carolina (485,487)
  • South Dakota (106,881)
  • Tennessee (964,512)
  • Texas (1,980,753)
  • Utah (1,181,564)
  • Vermont (51,549)
  • Virgin Islands (2,145)
  • Virginia (655,339)
  • Washington (736,846)
  • West Virginia (224,240)
  • Wisconsin (785,856)
  • Wyoming (84,624)