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Sales of guns and ammunition are setting records in 2020.

“Personal Protection”

Worries over social disruption are driving decisions to purchase firearms and stockpile ammunition. Fear of how other people will respond to the stresses caused by Black Lives Matter protests and Covid-19 have contributed to a sense of vulnerability.  That vulnerability is helping people to decide to purchase a gun for protection. 

Political division only adds to the anxiety.   Some days it seems like no one is telling the truth or knows what is happening with the protests, disease or the economy.  Rumors and conspiracy theories feed the division.

Gun retailers traditionally see windfall sales in times of crisis and political agitation. Events like the Sandy Hook mass shooting and the 2008 election of Democrats to the House, Senate, and Presidency have driven gun purchases to new heights. 

Those records are being shattered now.  Gun shops are reporting sales increases of 20% to 400%.  Growing fears of protests across the country, lockdowns, economic upheaval, shortages from COVID, rumors and uncertainty about the future continue to drive guns sales to unprecedented levels.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Gun? 

Where a buyer lives and if they already have a permit will determine how long it takes to get possession of a firearm. It can be as quick as an hour, one trip, same day service or it can require a purchase with several days waiting period. In South Dakota, if the buyer passes the background check the store submits they can take their firearm with them. The process can be completed in an hour if there is not a waiting line for the background check. A California buyer will also have to pass the background check but that state requires a 10 day waiting period before the customer can take possession of their weapon.

How Many Guns Are Being Sold?

With over 117,000 licensed dealers, pawnbrokers, and collector stores in the country it isn’t hard to find a place to purchase a gun legally. Actual counts of firearms sold are not provided as public information nor do they include firearms owned by the US military. Industry experts peg total units sold last year at 13.9 million. Guns manufactured, imported, and exported are intentionally reported two years late to protect trade secrets. Numbers are available for 2017, show: 8,327,792 manufactured, 488,300 exported and 4,492,256 imported for a net of over 12.3 million available in that year.

Surveys show there are more guns than people in the US, which is the highest personal firearm ownership rate of any country in the world. Gallup polls show 30% of citizens own at least one firearm and 43% of citizens live in a household with a gun. At first glance, it seems like the numbers don’t work but it is important to note that a gun-owning household generally has more than one gun. Estimates show the average owner will have anywhere from 3 to 8 guns. Super collectors can have over 100. 

Gun Shops Deemed “Essential Business”

Shelter in place orders were being implemented across the country in an attempt to reduce the spread of Covid-19. Those orders led to the lockdown of many businesses and public spaces. Essential businesses were allowed to remain open. Essential was loosely defined to include services that support basic living including food, medical, garbage removal, utilities, agriculture, veterinary services, construction, fuel, automotive, etc. Non-essential were more directed to entertainment and vanity including theaters, hair salons, tattoo parlors, hobbies, etc. Restaurant dining rooms were closed but take-out and delivery were allowed. 

Five states, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, and Washington included gun stores in the shutdown orders. California left the decision up to the sheriffs’ department, some of which closed stores while others left them open. Almost instantly shouts went out and lawsuits were filed challenging gun shop closures as an infringement of 2nd amendment rights. Those who wanted the shops closed made the case that purchasing a gun was not essential to the day to day living and that 2nd amendment rights were not being specifically attacked. They pointed out that the closing of bookstores, libraries, and theaters were not considered an infringement on the right to free speech.

Gun lobby groups including the NRA and the National Sports Foundation applied pressure to the administration to make a change. The result was the Department of Homeland Security issuing guidance to the states that firearm-related industries should be deemed essential and allowed to remain open. States that had ordered gun shops closed allowed them to reopen.

Gun control and safety groups issued warnings that putting more guns into communities could spike suicides and accidental deaths.

Gun Sales During COVID

Today anxious buyers fidget in lines on sidewalks or in their vehicles for their turn to buy guns and ammunition. Many are looking to purchase the first time. To gun opponents, it seems unreal that you can now buy a gun at a temporary folding table set up on the sidewalk or in the parking lot kiosk next to the gun store or even at a drive-up window. The ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) loosened restrictions on where you can purchase a gun to allow for social distancing during the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Licensed firearm dealers are adding makeshift sidewalk and parking lot displays as well as drive-through sales windows to accommodate buyers without crowding them into their stores. 

Volumes of Background Checks Are Soaring 

Background checks for firearm purchases don’t show actual gun sales but they do show how many people are seriously looking. 3.7 million more background checks were processed in the first five months of this year. March alone was over a million more, over 40% higher than last year. 

It looks like the trend is growing fast. We will watch for the June numbers to come out and let you know how they look.

Month 2020 2019 Increase % Growth
January 2,702,702 2,165,094 537,608 24.83%
February 2,802,467 2,053,886 748,581 36.45%
March 3,740,688 2,644,851 1,095,837 41.43%
April 2,911,128 2,334,309 576,879 24.71%
May 3,091,455 2,349,309 742,146 31.59%
Total 15,248,440 11,547,389 3,701,051 32.05%

The sentiments surrounding gun ownership in the US evolved over the last 50 years. In the 70s the main reason stated for gun ownership was hunting and pleasure shooting. Now the overwhelming majority of gun purchases are attributed to personal protection.

The Downside of Owning a Gun

Millions of gun owners handle their firearms safely and securely. Others do not. It is easy to get too comfortable and allow a weapon to be accessible to the wrong person. Some gun enthusiasts worry about an influx of new inexperienced owners. Even with training, any gun owner can make a mistake. Proper storage is key. A loaded gun in an accessible spot can turn a bad day for someone into a suicide statistic. Or a verbal argument into assault with a deadly weapon or even murder. While the most obedient child can be told to not touch, curiosity can win out. Or the desire to show off something new to a friend can result in tragedy.

Laws are different from state to state. What is legal in one area may be a serious crime in another. It is important to know the laws in any area a gun is carried.

Firearms can bring emotional change. Stand your ground laws embolden some people into escalating disagreements. Fear can make people pull a weapon when none is needed.  

The government will not scientifically investigate the impact of personal gun ownership on crime or gun related deaths in the country.  Private entities have tried and there is some data available but it appears to vary in favor of who funded the study.  Pro-gun ownership groups present evidence of the value of “a good guy with a gun” while gun-control groups present evidence of gun accidents and wrongful deaths.

It is too soon to know if adding guns to so many more homes during COVID and the protests will help with personal security or cause a spike in the negative aspects of gun ownership.


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