The run on guns coincides with the coronavirus crisis and deadly riots that have put Americans on guard. Nearly 26 million background checks were run through the FBI’s national instant check system through August, and this month’s totals could push the numbers past the record 28.3 million checks from all of 2019.
“They’re buying everything,” said Steve Clark, who owns Clark Brothers Gun Shop in Fauquier County, Virginia. Some of his customers are opting for less popular firearms, figuring it will be easier to find ammunition for those models amid reports of ammo shortages among some retailers.
“It’s across the board — it’s everything,” he said. “You can’t get near enough shotguns because people are looking for those for house defense.” For ammunition, he said interest in some calibers that had lost popularity, like the Smith & Wesson .40, have picked up again. “9s and .45s have always been popular, but the .40 had kind of dropped off after the police stopped [using it for] their primary caliber,” he said.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been an uptick in interest in gun safety classes, including some parents bringing their young children along to learn how to shoot properly. “We have five times as many people as normal — it’s off the charts,” Rick Green, who teaches self-defense courses in Austin, Texas, told The Washington Times this month. “It’s people from every walk of life, young, old. More than half are females.”
Joe Hawk, the owner of Guns & Roses in Toms River, New Jersey, said he has seen potential customers become crestfallen when they learn guns are out of stock and on back-order because of soaring demand. “It’s almost a scale of desperation you see on these people’s faces. You can’t help them. You can’t supply them with something,” Mr. Hawk said.
Guns & Roses has seen high demand for all types of firearms, but in particular the Glock 17 and Glock 19, two of the company’s popular 9 mm handguns. Mr. Hawk, though, said the stores has been trying to steer new customers into buying revolvers or weapons with a built-in safety mechanism.
“On the long gun end, they ask for a home-protection shotgun,” he said. He said customers are asking for Remington and Mossberg brands, but Remington’s bankruptcy filing and logistics issues in Mossberg’s barrel line are affecting the supply chain.
“So then the next brand after that — it’s mostly Turkish guns, and a lot of those parts have been coming in and flooding the market,” he said. Smith & Wesson indicated this month that it plans to ramp up production to accommodate the increased demand.
During the first half of the year, the Glock G19 and G19 GEN4 models both ranked in the top 10 best-selling new semiautomatic pistols online, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade group for the gun industry.
Others included the Sig Sauer P320, Smith & Wesson M&P and Beretta M9A3. The P320 is the civilian version of the Marine Corps’ new M18 sidearm. For new pump-action shotguns, the Mossberg 590, Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 were all top sellers.
In August, there were an estimated 1.8 million gun sales — a 58% increase from last year, according to Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a research firm. Estimated single handgun sales ticked up a bit more (66%) than did single long gun sales (46.5%), the company found.
“With the hunting season about to begin in earnest and the presidential election season about to start in earnest as well, 2020 will, without doubt, exceed the previous high of 16.6 million units sold in 2016,” said Jurgen Brauer, the group’s chief economist.
Mr. Hawk said there have been supply chain issues when it comes to ammunition. He said two or three months ago, his store was able to get 25 cases of 9 mm ammo, the most popular round, but then that dipped to 10 cases and then one case.
“Now, that’s what we’re allowed to sell whenever they get it in stock, which is usually once a month. So we went from 25,000 to 10,000 to 1,000,” he said. “That goes so fast — that’s in one day, 1,000 rounds. It’s very tight, to put it in perspective.”
Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the shooting sports group, said materials, labor and resources exist for manufacturers to produce ammo, but demand is outpacing supply. “NSSF estimates that there are nearly 5 million first-time gun buyers in 2020,” he said. “That means there are also 5 million first-time ammunition buyers and 5 million first-time recreational shooters attending classes and filling ranges. These are all unprecedented demands that the entire industry is working to absorb and service.”
Gun-control groups warn that the explosion in sales also has led to an increase in the number of background checks that reveal banned buyers who can slip through cracks in the system.
Between March and July, there was a 54% increase in the number of background checks that were delayed past three days compared to the same period in 2019, translating to nearly 300,000 sales that could have proceeded before a check was finished, according to the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, the [Justice Department] warned President Trump that the background check system was going to be overwhelmed — but rather than addressing it, Trump added fuel to the fire by making it even easier to buy guns,” said Rob Wilcox, deputy director of policy and strategy at Everytown. “Thousands of guns have likely fallen into the wrong hands due [to] the Charleston loophole, and there’s no end in sight.”
That’s a reference to the 2015 shooting in South Carolina in which a White supremacist shot and killed nine people at a Black church. The shooter was able to obtain his weapon because of a breakdown in the background check system. Dealers generally have to wait three days to hear back from the FBI when they run background checks before proceeding with a sale. ✪