It's no secret that Americans are buying more firearms at a faster rate.
But what is interesting about a significant portion of those purchasing firearms over the last year is not only the fact that many are first-time buyers — but also that so many were staunchly anti-gun in the past.
What is the background?
Firearm sales hit unprecedented levels in 2020. The FBI, in fact, said the agency conducted a record 39.7 million firearm-related background checks last year. The background checks are required of any person who makes purchases from from a federally licensed firearms dealer.
However, the background checks do not directly represent firearm-exclusive purchases.
That number — background checks conducted for purchases of firearms only — stood at 21 million in 2020, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The number shattered the previous record of 15.7 million set in 2016.
The anti-gun are suddenly becoming pro-gun?
Even more eye-popping than the number of total firearm purchases last year is the number of first-time buyers. NSSF estimated that 8.4 million, accounting for 40% of all firearm purchases in 2020, were first-time buyers.
According to the Washington Post, many of those first-time buyers were previously anti-gun.
Shakima Thomas of New Jersey told the Post that she is a lifelong Democrat who previously wanted nothing to do with firearms. But following the violence that erupted across cities last summer, Thomas found herself as the new owner of a pistol and AR-15.
"I never felt like I would want to own a gun because of the damage I thought they do to people," she said. "But when I started feeling unsafe, all of that changed."
Karen Williams-Adir, a black woman who lives in Los Angeles, told the Post she is now the owner of four guns. "It just felt like we needed to be able to defend ourselves. And I'm not bringing a knife to a gunfight."
That was the common theme among people who became new gun owners: They were inspired to buy firearms because they felt unsafe.
Charrie Wexler, a firearms instructor from Florida, said COVID-19, the protests, and a hostile political environment had many previously anti-gun Americans rethinking their position.
"We got a massive increase in women, Blacks, Asians, transgender people," Wexler said. "They started coming in when there was all that talk of defunding the police and when people didn't know what COVID would mean and worried that people might come to their homes trying to get their supplies."
"Fear on top of fear on top of fear," she explained. "Women, especially, would say, 'I don't believe in guns, I don't like them, but the world has gone crazy.'"
Michael Cargill, a gun store owner in Austin, Texas, said he experienced the same phenomenon.
"Last summer, you had the protests and downtown was basically boarded up. Law enforcement all went downtown. Right away, we had lines out the door every day," he told the Post.
"It didn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican, White or Black," Cargill explained. "One side said, 'Trump's going to be reelected and it's going to get violent,' and the other said, 'Biden's going to win and he's going to come after the guns.' My instructors and I became like gun therapists for people who never had guns before or really didn't like guns. One lady came in here in tears, with her teenagers, and she said, 'This goes against everything I believe in, but I need my family to learn how to protect themselves.'"
What about 2021?
Gun sales, though slowing from last year's record numbers, remain above average in 2021, according to Forbes.