January was busiest gun background check month in U.S. history

Checks already more than 10% of 2020 total.

Updated: February 6, 2021 - 9:34pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Gun background checks in the United States shattered monthly records in January, blowing past the four million mark for the first time in U.S. history.

Americans underwent nearly 4,318,000 checks for firearm purchases last month, handily defeating December's then-record of nearly 3,940,000 checks and recording over four million checks in one month for the first time in the 23-year history of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The four-million-plus checks performed in January total nearly 11% of the roughly 39,700,000 checks performed in the entirety of 2020. January of last year, for comparison, saw just over 2,700,000 background checks nationwide. 

Last year was already the busiest background check year on record for the NICS, though January's trends, if they hold throughout the year, will likely shatter that record. Historically, the beginnings and ends of years are often busier than the mid-year months.

Last year's record checks came amid sustained national unrest driven by often-violent protests led by Black Lives Matter in numerous cities nationwide, as well as record-high unemployment and economic devastation stemming from COVID-19 lockdowns and closures.