The FBI reported firearms background checks continue rising at a torrid pace, jumping 22% in February from last year and bringing the year-to-date total to over 7.76 million, some 41% higher than the same period in 2020, which was an all-time record year for background checks.

Although the FBI said February's 3.44 million checks were down one million from January, that month set the record for background investigations since the agency began tracking them in the late 1990s.

AR rifle laying on American flag

Image source: Getty Images.

Shooting out the lights

Gun manufacturers are having record sales. Last month Sturm, Ruger (RGR -0.99%) reported its best sales year since 2016 with sales rising $569 million, up 39% from 2019.

Smith & Wesson Brands (SWBI -1.24%) is scheduled to report its fiscal third-quarter earnings after the market's close today, but its second-quarter sales report in December showed sales more than doubled to almost $249 million while adjusted earnings rocketed from a penny per share a year ago to $0.97 per share.

Fear of greater restrictions on gun ownership is fueling gun sales now. While last year's record growth was largely attributed to a desire for greater personal protection as unrest gripped major American cities, the 2020 election results with a Congress and White House more agreeable to enacting stricter gun laws is leading the surge seen this year.

While the FBI numbers show background checks surging, the National Shooting Sports Foundation will release its adjusted data, which removes from the FBI's raw numbers duplicate checks for such things as whether existing concealed carry permit holders are still eligible to have permits.

While neither number shows the number of guns actually sold, since someone may own more than one or even be denied the ability to purchase one, the NSSF report provides a closer assessment of consumer demand for firearms.