Roger Bourgoin of Auburn looks at a Smith & Wesson 22 Magnum revolver at 3 Cousins Firearms in Lewiston on Friday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Firearms sales in Maine and across the country fell sharply for the second consecutive year in 2022, newly released federal data show. But with sales still higher than pre-pandemic records, industry members aren’t too concerned.

Gun dealers in Maine recorded over 114,000 sales last year, a 17% decrease from the pandemic high of more than 137,000. But the 2022 total was still the third-highest total since the FBI began compiling data on background checks in 1998.

Gauging gun sales is difficult, since some states, including Maine, do not require background checks of purchasers; federal law only requires licensed gun dealers to submit buyer information for review. Although approximations, background check requests are widely used to estimate sales.

In 2019, Maine gun dealers submitted 90,626 requests to the FBI. The following year, requests skyrocketed by 53%, peaking at 137,149 requests in 2020.

Figures dipped in 2021 to 129,193 requests. The trend repeated last year, with 114,090 background check requests.

But while sales estimates have dropped, they’re still higher than average. Before 2020, the biggest year for gun sales in Maine was 2016, with 111,582 background check requests. The requests in 2022 are 25% higher than a decade ago and 128% higher than 20 years ago.


Nationally, it’s much the same.

The country saw a record-breaking 21.2 million background check requests in 2020, followed by declines in 2021 and 2022. But as in Maine, last year’s U.S. total, 16.4 million, is still higher than any other year before the pandemic. The previous record was 15.7 million in 2016.

The country’s largest firearm manufacturers are also experiencing a bit of a slump.

According to CNBC, American Outdoor Brands and Vista Outdoor have recently reported weaker sales in their shooting categories, and Sturm, Ruger & Co., the largest publicly traded gunmaker in the U.S., reported a 28% year-over-year drop in net sales for the fiscal third quarter last year.

Gunmaker Smith & Wesson also reported a 47.5% second-quarter net sales decrease in 2022. The firearms company has a manufacturing facility in Houlton, which produces handcuffs and other restraints and performs machining.



Nevertheless, the firearms industry appears to be doing a brisk business in Maine.

Laura Parker, a board member of Gun Owners of Maine, said the organization has seen an increase in new gun owners seeking safety training, knowledge and guidance on how to safely own and operate guns.

“In the past few years, due to a variety of issues, people have become more aware of the importance of self-defense and the right to gun ownership,” Parker said in an email. “These new gun owners are broadly represented across society and break the typical stereotype of gun ownership.”

Trevor Brooks, co-owner of 3 Cousins Firearms in Lewiston, is also seeing a high volume of first-time gun owners, and their reasons for purchasing a firearm run the gamut.

Some see a gun as a financial investment, others have recently taken up hunting or shooting, and many are concerned about the civil unrest both in the U.S. and around the world.

3 Cousins opened in early 2021. While plans had been in the works for some time, Brooks said the increased market demand was a boon for the early days of the business, despite supply chain struggles. By sales volume, 2021 was a bigger year, but 2022 was still really strong.


Brooks is optimistic about 2023, but he’s not without concerns.

Inflation has put a dent in many people’s wallets, and compared to food, housing and gas, “a firearm is not something that people look at as a necessity,” he said.

There are also a lot of nerves within the industry, from buyers and sellers, about the political climate.

“The gun world has been very publicized in the last year, and there’s a lot of tension about what is changing (or) what might change,” he said. “Nobody wants to come in and buy a gun they think might be banned or confiscated.”

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, also pointed to the political landscape as a market indicator, but with the opposite effect.

“I call it the anxiety factor,” Trahan said.


Some administrations are more of a threat to firearm rights than others, he said, and when there’s more fear around losing rights, people are more likely to go out and buy firearms.

When there isn’t as much of a threat, like now, with a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, gun sales might wane, he said.

Maine has a high rate of gun ownership, driven primarily by hunters, and past efforts to restrict firearms have backfired politically, only motivating opponents of gun control to turn out to vote.

The state’s aversion to gun restrictions has existed for as long as Maine has. The Maine Constitution says the right to bear arms “shall never be questioned.”

It is also largely rural, which not only provides ample opportunity for people to hunt but also makes people more inclined to purchase firearms for self-protection given that many small towns don’t have their own police force.

Gun sales often spike in election years and after high-profile crimes, the New York Times has reported.



Following the 2020 elections and unrest that followed, the coronavirus pandemic and protests after the death of George Floyd, “Americans have been on an unusual, prolonged buying spree,” the Times said.

Outside of the coronavirus-related protests and national and political division that may have encouraged some to purchase firearms, the pandemic also pushed more people outdoors, giving a boost to many activities like hunting and recreational shooting.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife reported a 9% increase in hunting licenses after the start of the pandemic. But Trahan thinks the higher-than-usual gun sales aren’t just because more people have taken up hunting.

“There’s also an issue around crime right now,” he said.

Last year, Maine reported 29 homicides, up from 18 in 2021 and 20 in 2020. People who are afraid for their safety are more likely to turn to firearms for self-defense, he said.

Overall, Maine is below the national average when it comes to gun violence, a result of the state’s low homicide rate. Maine ranks 25th in the country for gun safety, with about 10.5 gun deaths per 100,000 residents, compared to the national average of 12.2 deaths, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

However, Maine sees a higher rate of suicides and suicide attempts using firearms than the national average. The rate of death from a gun suicide is 8.8 per 100,000 people in Maine, compared to a rate of 7 per 100,000 people nationwide, according to data collected by the advocacy group.

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