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NSSF-Adjusted Background Checks for Q4, 2021

18.5 million Americans chose to lawfully purchase a firearm last year.

NSSF-Adjusted Background Checks for Q4, 2021

Source: FBI NICS and NSSF research

NICS Background Check
Source: FBI NICS and NSSF research

(News release) The December 2021 NSSF-adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figure of 1,792,797 is a decrease of 6.0 percent compared to the December 2020 NSSF-adjusted NICS figure of 1,906,916.

For comparison, the unadjusted December 2021 FBI NICS figure 3,080,295 reflects a 21.1 percent decrease from the unadjusted FBI NICS figure of 3,904,879 in December 2020. Total NSSF-adjusted NICS figures for 2021 were 18,515,188, the second highest year on record.

The fourth quarter 2021 NSSF-adjusted National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) figure of 4,763,439 reflects a decrease of 15.3 percent over the 5,625,610 figure for fourth quarter 2020.

NICS Background Check
Source: FBI NICS and NSSF research

The 2021 annual adjusted NICS total is exceeded only by the previous record of 21,083,643 set in 2020.

Please note: Twenty-five 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.

NICS Background Check
Source: FBI NICS and NSSF research

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.

Statement from Mark Oliva, director of Public Affairs:

"The fact that over 18.5 million Americans chose lawfully purchase a firearm in 2021 is indicative the value Americans hold of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The year 2021 was the second-highest year for background checks for gun sales, behind on the 2020’s record of over 21 million background checks for a gun sale. This has all occurred as Americans have taken stock of their personal safety concerns and their fundamental, God-given rights. This has also happened as the firearm industry faced significant challenges and new opportunities. NSSF led the opposition to defeat President Joe Biden’s nomination of a gun control lobbyist, David Chipman, to regulate the firearm industry, the single most important fight of the year to preserve the firearm industry and Second Amendment rights. At the same time, manufacturers announced significant investments in the expansion and relocation, signaling the anticipation for continued growth. The 2021 totals of 18.5 million background checks for a firearm sale prove the work to preserve and grow this vital industry is essential and the men and women of this industry are able more than capable of meeting the growing demand for lawful firearm ownership."

About NSSF

The National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association for the firearms industry. Its mission is to promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports. Formed in 1961, NSSF has a membership of thousands of manufacturers, distributors, firearms retailers, shooting ranges, sportsmen’s organizations and publishers nationwide. For more information, visit


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