Firearm Purchasing During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Results From the 2021 National Firearms Survey

I am excited that results from the 2021 National Firearms Survey are now being published (see Annals of Internal Medicine) so we can know more about the dimensions of firearms purchasing in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among this article’s general conclusions is that the recent Great Gun Buying Spree “resulted from a general increase in the number of U.S. adults who bought guns, the great majority of whom in any given year already owned firearms. Nonetheless, the number of new gun owners created, 1 January 2019 to 26 April 2021, was sufficiently large (an estimated 7.5 million) and diverse (approximately half were female and almost half were people of color) to have a modest effect on the prevalence of firearm ownership and on the demographic profile of current gun owners.”

Findings regarding new gun owners:

We estimate that nearly 3 million more U.S. adults purchased firearms in 2020 (16.6 million) than in 2019 (13.8 million) (Table 2). As a result, even though the proportion of gun purchasers who were new to gun ownership in each of the 3 calendar years we examined hovered around 20%, without notable differences in this proportion prior to versus during the COVID-19 pandemic, the estimated absolute number of new gun owners increased. In 2019, for example, approximately 2.4 million U.S. adults became new gun owners (0.9% of U.S. adults); in 2020, 3.8 million did (1.5% of U.S. adults). Overall, an estimated 2.9% of U.S. adults (7.5 million people) became new gun owners over the 28 months before the survey, equal to 10% of all U.S. adults who personally owned firearms as of April 2021.

Findings regarding diversity of new gun owners, confirming earlier anecdotal accounts:

We estimate that approximately 10% of gun owners as of May 2021 had become new gun owners over the prior 28 months. Slightly more than half of these new gun owners were male and non-Hispanic White; one fifth were Black and one fifth were Hispanic. One quarter were younger than 30 years. On average, new gun owners owned 1.9 firearms, 1.2 of which were handguns. In the 16 months before the survey, these purchasers bought on average 1.3 firearms, approximately three quarters of which were handguns.

Methodological Notes

I’m not a survey methodologist but I like the opt-in panel design of this study as the response rates seem much better than random digit dialing or mail-back surveys I have seen recently, whose response rates seem to be tanking.

I note the estimated rate of personal and household gun ownership in the 2021 National Firearms Survey is higher than in the General Social Survey, perhaps because it overcomes some of the reasons for underestimation I have noted before.

My only question right now has to do with the estimate of personal gun ownership in this study. The text and Table 1 say 28.8%, but the footnote(*) in Table 1 says 5,932 of 19,049 respondents own firearms. Isn’t that 31.1%? What am I missing here?

I will update this post if/when I get some clarity on this.

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