The world’s largest gun store, in metro Atlanta, has had lines that are six and eight people deep. A gun store in Los Angeles had lines that stretched down the block. And at least one store in Idaho put limits on sales after its shelves were nearly cleared out.
Just as grocery stores have been stripped bare by Americans panicked by coronavirus, guns and ammunition have started flying off the shelves. Retailers say the buying frenzy is being fueled by consumers who are worried that people are becoming so desperate and unpredictable, they need to ensure they can protect themselves.
“It’s been insane,” said Jay Wallace, who owns Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna, Georgia, adding that his ammunition sales are up more than five times the usual numbers.
Sales spiked in a matter of days, industry experts say. Some of the purchases are made by people buying their first firearm. Others are existing gun owners adding to their collection or stocking up on ammunition after seeing grocery stores depleted, schools closed and big events canceled, including the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting.
Also potentially driving the sales are concerns that elected officials may try to restrict access to firearms. A mayor in Illinois recently signed an executive order that would give her the right to ban the sale of guns or ammunition, as did the mayor of New Orleans.
Specific data on the size of the sales spike will not be available until next month. But already this year, background checks are up considerably over last year. According to data from the FBI, just over 5.5 million background checks were conducted in January and February combined.
Gun sales generally rise in an election year, as they did in 2016. But this past January and February have outpaced 2016 by nearly 350,000.
Betsy Terrell, a 61-year-old resident of Decatur, Georgia, said she thought for years about purchasing a handgun and decided to finally get one after seeing chaos at her local Costco, with long lines and people stockpiling goods.
She feels the metro Atlanta area already has a lot of crime. She’s worried that if the economy tanks, crime will rise even more.
“I was beginning to see people acting oddly. That was a little unnerving,” she said. “I feel there’s potential political upheaval…. It’s scary. It’s only now I’ve felt this overwhelming need to arm myself.”
Some gun shows have been canceled, but online sales and in-person sales at federally licensed dealers appear to be up. Ammo.com has reported sales up nearly 70% from Feb. 23 to March 4 over the previous 11 days.
At Sportsmen’s Warehouse in Meridian, Idaho, some shelves holding handgun ammunition were nearly wiped out. The store posted signs telling customers that sales were limited to no more than two handguns per person each day and no more than one AR- or AK-platform rifles each day. It also placed limits on ammunition.
As recently as Friday, Retting Guns in Culver City, California, posted that it had plenty of handguns and a decent supply of ammunition. But by the weekend, photographs showed lines extending out its doors and down the block. The store posted that the staff was too busy to answer the phone or continue holding firearms safety certification classes.