2020 was a record year for many things, including the sale of firearms.
"2020 was a year unlike any other we've seen. We had 21 million background checks for the sale of a firearm and that by far exceeded any previous record we had,” Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation or NSSF, said.
Oliva said first-time gun buyers accounted for 40% of purchases last year-- about 8.4 million people nationwide.
Here in Connecticut there were 169,157 gun sales in 2020. That's a 33% increase over 2019.
Gun ownership is growing in particular among women and African-Americans.
"It's really a cross section of society. It's not that gun owners are this or that, gun owners are everybody right now,” Holly Sullivan, president of the Connecticut Citizens Defense League, said.
Sullivan said membership in her organization is up 20% over last year.
The NSSF said more than half the firearms purchased in 2020 were small handguns used for self-defense. They first saw sales start to increase back in March when the first COVID lockdowns were put into place. That continued into May with the killing of George Floyd.
Gun sales among African-Americans went up 58% from 2019.
"People right now they feel unsafe, they feel uneasy, they're down right nervous and there's a basic need and desire to feel as though they can protect themselves and protect their families,” Jimmy McMikle, of Dark Horse Training Solutions and president of the National African American Gun Association in Connecticut, said.
He said his basic pistol class is full every weekend.
"You're talking about a general concern about rapidly rising racial tensions and the fear of racially motivated attacks. And we want the same level of security that's driving everybody else in this country to buy guns right now,” McMikle said.
He said the waving of the Confederate flag at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month just added to the racial tensions.
"People of color are feeling more motivated to exercise their constitutional right to be safe,” he added.