The FBI conducted more background checks for firearms purchases in March – a month in which several prominent mass shootings reignited America’s conversation about gun control – than they have in any month so far this year.
About 4.7 million Americans initiated gun background checks last month – a 36% increase from February, according to the FBI. More than 2 million of those checks were for new gun purchases, according to the National Shooting Sports Federation, the firearms industry trade group that compares FBI background check numbers with actual sales data to determine its sales figures.
The new guns purchased in March make it the second highest month on record for firearms sales, according to NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva, who said the threat of looming gun control legislation was the catalyst for last months sales surge.
NSSF data shows last month’s sales were surpassed only by the estimated 2.3 million guns sold in March 2020, when the spread of Covid-19 have caused Americans to horde guns and bullets in addition to toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
“It is clear that firearm sales in March were driven by gun control calls from politicians to ban entire classes of firearms and enact onerous gun laws,” Oliva told CNN Business via email Thursday afternoon.
House Democrats passed a pair of gun-control bills last month that would expand background check requirements on all gun sales and transfers. GOP senators are expected to oppose the measures, which will require support from all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to establish the filibuster-proof majority needed to pass the bills before President Biden can sign either of them into law.
Oliva said the ongoing surge in gun purchases, which last year was fueled largely by African American and women first-time gun buyers, suggests that the demographic profile of American gun owners is changing.
“The face of today’s gun owner no longer fits in the neat little box that some would like to put gun ownership into,” Oliva said. “The fact is gun ownership in America looks more like the country than it ever has.”
The House of Representatives passed the pair of gun control bills on March 11. Five days later eight people were killed in Atlanta, including six Asian women, in a series of shootings at spas. A week after that, 10 people, including a local police officer, were shot dead in a Boulder, Colorado grocery store. Biden urged the Senate to pass gun control legislation in the aftermath of both shootings.
There have been at least 20 mass shootings in the three weeks since the Atlanta attack.
Firearm sales fell slightly in February after a January surge, which had been fueled in part by the Capitol Hill insurrection. January and March are the only two months in which FBI gun background checks surpassed 4 million since records were first kept in 1998.
The Covid-19 pandemic, fears of civil unrest stemming from nationwide protests and riots that erupted in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd last summer all helped 2020 set the all-time record for gun purchases in a single year.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people killed in the Atlanta and Boulder shootings. Eight people were killed in Atlanta, and 10 were killed in Boulder.