The FBI says gun sales are soaring. Data from its National Instant Criminal Background Check System showed a record 3.9 million background checks were conducted in June, surpassing the previous record of 3.7 million in March.

Criminal background checks are up over 38% in 2020, with three of the top four busiest months ever occurring this year. In fact, the 19.1 million investigations done over the first six months is almost as many as were performed in all of 2012, when 19.5 million background checks were done.

Woman shooting handgun at pistol range

Image source: Getty Images.

Targeting new records

Shares of the biggest gunmakers have hardly budged on the news. Smith & Wesson Brands (SWBI -0.54%) is down less than half a percentage point today, while Sturm, Ruger (RGR -0.39%) is up less than half a percentage point.

That's likely because the FBI's data has already been baked into their share prices. Smith & Wesson, for example, has quadrupled in value since its March lows, while Ruger has doubled.

Fear-based buying is typically the cause of such surges, whether it's due to concern over more restrictive gun laws being passed or worries for personal safety. It is undoubtedly the latter that is driving the latest wave of gun purchases. Protests, riots, city centers being annexed, and even calls from politicians to defund law enforcement or drastically reduce such budgets have people deciding they need to be better prepared to protect themselves, their families, and their property.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) adjusts raw FBI data to account for duplicate checks performed on existing concealed-carry permit holders, which can artificially inflate the numbers. Although we'll need to wait to see June's adjustments, through May even NSSF data showed a near 53% increase.