Fears of instability in the United States, stoked by street-level clashes over public health measures and the upcoming election, are fueling apparently record gun sales.
According to the F.B.I, the nearly 29 million background checks conducted through September of this year have already surpassed the total conducted in 2019, which was, at the time, higher than in any previous year.
Still, Precisely measuring the extent of the surge is difficult, as neither gun companies nor the government provide comprehensive national data on gun sales. However, anecdotal reports of gun and ammo shortages have been widespread for months.
Many first-time buyers say they are looking to arm themselves in anticipation of unrest. They cite heated rhetoric surrounding the election, as supporters of both President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. have said they expect a protracted fight over the election results.
But other first-time buyers and some of those buying again have said that their decision reflects general unease about growing discontent in the United States — where millions of people face permanent job losses because of the pandemic — as well as anger about public health restrictions, which has inspired armed protests in several states with open-carry laws.
Angst about the national mood has been exacerbated by several instances of actual violence during recent months, as several people have been shot and killed by fellow demonstrators during protests over policing and police violence.
Members of the intelligence community have warned of a growing threat of far-right extremism, which they said could become a greater problem closer to the election. On Tuesday, the F.B.I. revealed that a ring of 13 men had plotted to kidnap the Democratic governors of Michigan and Virginia over stay-at-home measures to control coronavirus outbreaks in those states, and that two of them were among a crowd of armed protesters who had effectively occupied the Michigan statehouse in April while the Legislature was in session.