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10 Takeaways from the NSSF Firearms Sales Report

A closer look at gun sales from the first half of 2020, and what it says about the market.

10 Takeaways from the NSSF Firearms Sales Report
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The year 2020 has been an unusual, unpredictable and turbulent. In late January, news broke of COVID-19. Then followed lockdowns, canceled schools, civil unrest, violent protests, all before the presidential election cycle started heating up. Uncertain times prompted a record increase in the sale of firearms and ammunition. More Americans now believe that we must have an active role in our own well-being and security. But what firearms are people buying? The National Shooting Sports Foundation recently reported on the brands and gun models most popular with different age groups, as well as other factors. Guns & Ammo’s staff examined the NSSF’s report, and here are our 10 takeaways.

1. Background Checks

The increase in online background checks was dramatic. The National Instant Criminal Background Checks Systems (NICS) is the primary indicator of new firearm sales. We heard there have been record sales, but just how many guns have been sold?

According to the report, background check estimates for handguns averaged just under 600,000 per month for the last quarter of 2019. By contrast, there were an average of more than 920,000 background checks in the first quarter of 2020. NICS handgun numbers for April 2020 (1,470,528) and May (1,114,644) increased further to beat Q1 2020.

Long gun sales have increased similarly. In September 2019, there were 3,618 background checks for online purchases of long guns. By April 2020, that number was up to 7,518, which is an increase of 108 percent. Overall, this indicates that firearms were selling roughly 2-to-1 in early 2020 versus late 2019.

2. Don’t mess with Texas.

The NSSF report divided firearms sales into three primary categories: handguns, rifles and shotguns. From there, handguns were divided into revolver sales and semiautomatic sales. Rifle sales were divided into bolt-action, semiautomatic and lever-action sales, and shotguns were divided into pump actions, over/unders and semiautomatics.

In addition to the top 10 models by sales, the NSSF also provides a list of the states that purchased the most firearms in each of the eight subcategories. Texas topped every one of them.

Trailing the Lone Star State is Florida, which ranked among the top three states for sales in all subcategories. Pennsylvania, Illinois, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia all ranked high in the number of sales across multiple subcategories, as well. Additionally, states with restrictive gun laws saw high sales in other subcategories. New York wasn’t one of the top states for the sale of handguns or semiautomatic rifles, but the Empire State made the top 10 in the number of lever- and bolt-action rifles sold, as well as for all shotgun subcategories including pump shotguns. (New York ranked second overall for the sale of pump-action shotguns.)

The situation was similar in California, though California did crack the top 10 in number of semiautomatic handgun sales.

3. Single actions are still popular.

In the polymer-frame pistol age, some consider single-action revolvers as a tool of a bygone era. However, sales numbers indicated that single-action revolvers not only have a strong following but actually challenge double-action revolvers in overall sales! In fact, Ruger’s sub-$200 Wrangler rimfire was the top-selling revolver in the first half of 2020 with buyers under the age of 50. The Wrangler ranked second overall in revolver sales among those over 50 years of age, trailing behind the newly reintroduced Colt Python. Four of the top 10 revolvers purchased by buyers under the age of 50 were single actions, also. Single actions were more popular with buyers under the age of 50 than those over the age of 50.

4. Classics never go out of style.

With an average sale price of around $2,100, the aforementioned Colt Python was the top-selling revolver online with buyers age 50 and over. Considering the second-place Ruger Wrangler costs a tenth as much as the Colt, it’s clear that the Python’s popularity has nothing to do with a low cost of ownership.

Several of the top selling guns were originally released more than 50 years ago, including the Remington Model 700, which was second in bolt-action sales for those under the age of 50, and third in bolt-actions for buyers over age 50. Ruger’s Blackhawk revolver was seventh most popular in revolvers among all buyers and Ruger’s 10/22 was number 10 among semiautos with younger buyers, eighth with older buyers.

Familiar models that broke the top 10 in their respective categories included Marlin’s 336, 1895 and 1894, Smith & Wesson’s Model 686 and 642 revolvers; the Browning Citori over/under shotgun; Winchester’s Model 1873 lever-action rifle, the oldest gun design currently ranked a top 10 in category; Mossberg’s Model 500 shotgun, Remington’s Model 870 shotgun; and Beretta’s Model 92FS 9mm pistol and Silver Pigeon over/under shotgun.

5. The average semiauto rifle sold for less than $1,000.

AR-15-pattern rifles were still the most popular semiautomatic rifle platform with Ruger’s AR-556; Springfield Armory’s Saint and Smith & Wesson’s M&P line all taking spots in the top 10. Other popular firearms were the KelTec Sub-2000, Ruger PC Carbine 9mm, and the Ruger 10/22 rimfire.

Diamondback had one top-selling semiautomatic rifle: the DB15. It ranked seventh with buyers under the age of 50, as did Bushmaster, whose XM-15 ranked seventh with buyers over age 50.

It’s interesting to note that none of the top 10 best-selling semiautomatic rifles have an average sale price over $1,000. The average retail price for semiautomatic rifles across all age groups was $570, while the average sale price for bolt actions was $480. The average sale price for the top 10 lever guns was the highest of any category with an average price of $755.

6. 9mms and .357/.38s rule handgun sales.

Nine-millimeter handguns dominate semiautomatic handgun sales. The top-selling handgun for the first half of 2020 across both the groups was the SIG Sauer P320 series, and while the P320 is available in other chamberings, most were in 9mm.

Other top-selling 9mm handguns included the Smith & Wesson M&P9 Shield; Springfield Armory’s Hellcat; Beretta’s M9A3 and 92FS; the Glock G19 and G43 9mm; Springfield Armory XDm; and SIG Sauer’s P365 Nitron 9mm. Other non-9mm top-sellers were the new Ruger-57 in 5.7x28 and the KelTec’s PMR-30 .22 Magnum. The lone Model 1911 pistol on this list was the Kimber Stainless II, which ranked sixth with buyers over age 50.

Revolvers in .357 Magnum/.38 Special remain extremely popular, too. Ruger’s SP101, Blackhawk and GP-100; Smith & Wesson’s Model 686 and Model 642; Colt’s King Cobra and Python; and Taurus’s 856 all earned top spots. Of the top-selling revolvers, 80 percent were chambered in, or available in, .357 Magnum and/or .38 Special. Ruger’s Wrangler and Heritage Manufacturing’s .22 LR single action revolvers were also popular, as mentioned previously. One .44 Magnum-chambered revolver, the Smith & Wesson Model 629, happened to make the top 10 list in sales for all age groups.


7. Ruger is hot.

Ruger managed to claim 24 of the top spots across all categories, the most of any company on this list. That’s even more impressive when you consider that Ruger doesn’t even offer shotguns or lever action rifles (at this time). Top-selling models included the Wrangler, the Precision Rifle, American Rifle, American Rimfire, Precision Rimfire, AR-556, PC Carbine, 10/22, GP-100, Blackhawk, Ruger-57 and SP101 revolver.

Other top brands recording sales included Smith & Wesson with 14 top placers, 17 if you include Thompson/Center, which is owned by Smith & Wesson. Mossberg and Maverick Arms had 17 products in the top sales, and Remington and Marlin with 14 popular products.

8. Tactical shotguns are in.

Sixty percent of the top-selling semiautomatic and pump-action shotguns in the first half of 2020 were tactical in style. Some of the most popular models included the Mossberg 590 series, 590M and 590 Shockwave; Remington Model 870 and V3 TAC-13; and the Rock Island/Armscor VR80 and KS7 12-gauge pumps. Federal Armament also made a strong showing with their inexpensive FRX, FRN, FX3 and FX4 shotguns. The Israeli-made IWI TS12 was also a best-seller with all age groups in the semiauto shotgun market. The top-selling semiautomatic and pump-action field guns were the Mossberg 500 and 930, the Maverick 88, Remington’s Model 870, the Beretta A300 Outlander, Franchi’s Affinity and Weatherby’s Element.

There was also a disparity in the cost of the most popular shotgun models, too. Maverick Arms’ Model 88 pump, for example, sold for an average price of $205, and Federal Armament’s FRN averaged $148, which was the lowest sale price of any top 10 firearm. The top 10 over/under shotguns averaged the highest price of $1,215 across all age groups. The most expensive of the top 10 high-selling firearms was the Browning Citori 725 at $2,587.

9. Buyers over 50 don’t always spend more.

There’s a long-held theory that shooters over the age of 50 spend more on firearms than younger shooters, and that was based on the assumption that older shooters had more disposable income. According to the NSSF report, older shooters don’t always spend more. In fact, younger shooters spent more money than their older counterparts when purchasing semiautomatics, lever-action and bolt-action rifles. Also, older shooters spent more money on both semiauto pistols and revolvers. Buyers over the age of 50 spent more money on semiauto shotguns, but shooters under 50 paid more for pump-action and over/under shotguns.

In most instances, the average purchase price of a new firearm of a specific type was within $30, regardless of age. There were some exceptions, though; Buyers under the age of 50 spent an average of about $30 more on lever-action rifles than those over 50, while older buyers spent more on semiautomatic shotguns and revolvers. The biggest disparity was on the purchase price of revolvers; buyers over age 50 spent an average of $744, while those under 50 spent $625.

10. Budget bolt guns are big sellers.

Thanks to modern machining, bolt-action rifles can be manufactured at a lower cost than similar rifles produced as recent as the 1990s, without having to sacrifice accuracy. The average sale price for a bolt-action was $497 for buyers under the age of 50, and $463 for buyer over 50. A handful of these rifles promise sub-MOA accuracy. Ruger’s American Rifle, Savage’s Axis XP, Remington’s Model 700, Mossberg’s Patriot, Tikka’s T3X Lite, and Thompson/Center’s Venture and Icon rifles were all among the top 10 best-selling bolt-actions during the first half of 2020. Four affordable bolt-action hunting rifles including the Remington Model 700, Ruger American Rifle, Thompson/Center Compass and Howa M-1500 were top 10 sellers for all age groups.

Ruger’s Precision Rifle was a big seller, and it grabbed the top spot in bolt-action popularity for those shooters under the age of 50. It was the second most popular among buyers over 50. There were also several rimfire bolt guns that sold well including Ruger’s American Rimfire and Precision Rimfire, as well as Savage’s Mark II and B-Mag.

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