Guns, ammo retailers report sales surge across U.S. amid coronavirus fears

Toilet paper and hand sanitizer aren’t the only items flying off store shelves as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country. Some gun and ammunition retailers say they’ve seen so much demand in recent weeks that they’re having trouble keeping their shops stocked, too.

HuffPost called dozens of brick-and-mortar gun shops around the country. The vast majority said they were too overwhelmed with customers to comment when we called.

Michelle Bruneau, an employee at Carrara’s Gun Shop in Shrewsbury, Vermont, said she’s seen a significant boost in sales ― mostly ammunition ― over the last few weeks.

“We’re out in the woods,” Bruneau told HuffPost. “We don’t get a ton of traffic, especially this time of year. We had like six or seven customers yesterday, that’s huge for us.”

39 PHOTOS
Coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.
See Gallery
Coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.
Vice President Mike Pence points to a question as he speaks during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Tyler Baldwin mops the floor after closing for the night at the Taproom at Pike Place, Sunday, March 15, 2020 where he works as a bartender in Seattle. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Sunday night that he would order all bars, restaurants, entertainment and recreation facilities in the state to temporarily close to fight the spread of coronavirus, as Washington state has by far the most deaths in the U.S. from the disease. Baldwin said he closed more than an hour early Sunday after he heard the announcement. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A freeway sign urging people to wash their hands to avoid the COVID-19 virus is seen along the 101 Ventura freeway Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Westlake Village, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Shelves are emptied of paper toilet and product supplies at a Safeway store in Phoenix on Sunday, March 15, 2020. Arizona's governor and school superintendent on Sunday ordered a statewide closure of schools through at least March 27 as authorities rush to contain the outbreak of the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)
A store vendor wears a face mask as she waits for customers in Chinatown in New York, on Sunday, March 15, 2020. President Donald Trump on Sunday called on Americans to cease hoarding groceries and other supplies, while one of the nation's most senior public health officials called on the nation to act with more urgency to safeguard their health as the coronavirus outbreak continued to spread across the United States.(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Workers from a Servpro disaster recovery team wearing protective suits and respirators are given supplies as they line up before entering the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., to begin cleaning and disinfecting the facility, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The nursing home is at the center of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
March 11th 2020 - Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. - File Photo by: zz/KGC-11/STAR MAX/IPx 2016 9/9/16 Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson at The 5th Biennial Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C). (Los Angeles, CA)
NBA referee Marc Davis, left, takes a phone call as fellow referee Justin Van Duyne stands next to Davis before the basketball game between the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings was postponed at the last minute in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The league said the decision was made out of an "abundance of caution," because official Courtney Kirkland, who was scheduled to work the game, had worked the Utah Jazz game earlier in the week. A player for the Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
NBA referee Marc Davis leaves the court after the the NBA basketball game between the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Pelicans was postponed at the last minute in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, March 11, 2020. The postponement was due to what the league said was an "abundance of caution," because official Courtney Kirkland, who was scheduled to work the game, had worked the Utah Jazz game earlier in the week. A player for the Jazz tested positive for the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
From left Ellie Unruh, Abbie Unruh, Zoe Yates, and Evi Yates bump elbows instead of high-fives while playing volleyball at a local park Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Gilbert, Ariz. The girls were playing with friends after their respective volleyball clubs and teams practices and games were canceled statewide due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced earlier in the day that all schools and sports throughout Arizona are temporarily closed through March 27th challenging some parents to get creative in keeping their kids active. (AP Photo/Matt York)
A basketball fan walks past a sign on how to decrease the risk of catching the coronavirus outside a restroom at the American Airlines Arena during the first half of an NBA basketball game between the Miami Heat and the Charlotte Hornets, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus Wednesday, March, 11, 2020, in Washington. (Doug Mills/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
FILE PHOTO: Voters cast their ballot in the Democratic primary election in Houston
A trader works on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, New York
Judie Shape, left, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, waves to her daughter, Lori Spencer, right, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, as they visit on the phone and look at each other through a window at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. In-person visits are not allowed at the nursing home. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Judie Shape, center, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, blows a kiss to her son-in-law, Michael Spencer, left, as Shape's daughter, Lori Spencer, right, looks on, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, as they visit on the phone and look at each other through a window at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., near Seattle. In-person visits are not allowed at the nursing home. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
As President Donald Trump listens, Vice President Mike Pence speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington, Monday, March, 9, 2020, about the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Yirmeyahu Gourarie performs a Purim reading from the Book of Esther for residents under self-quarantine due to potential exposure to the new coronavirus, Monday, March 9, 2020, in New Rochelle, N.Y. In Westchester County, student volunteers from a Jewish secondary school were fanning out in teams to read the megillah on Monday evening and during the day Tuesday outside the homes of about 120 families from the community who are quarantined. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
This March 9, 2020, image provided by Carolyn Wright, a passenger aboard the Grand Princess, shows the disembarkation of the passengers from the cruise ship which is docked in Oakland, Ca. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (Courtesy of Carolyn Wright via AP)
Tim Killian, center, a spokesman for Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., talks to reporters, Monday, March 9, 2020, at the facility near Seattle. The nursing home is at the center of the outbreak of COVID-19 in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A sign stands next to a sanitizing station at the entrance of the Vivint Smart Home Arena before an NBA basketball game between the Toronto Raptors and the Utah Jazz, Monday, March 9, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Workers prepare a wharf at the Port of Oakland to receive the Grand Princess in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, March 8, 2020. The cruise ship, miles off the port Sunday, is expected to dock Monday for novel coronavirus quarantine after multiple people tested positive for the virus. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
En esta imagen tomada de un video cortesía de la Guardia Nacional de California, un helicóptero del 129no batallón de rescate sobrevuela el crucero Gran Princess frente a las costas de California, el jueves 5 de marzo de 2020. (Guardia Nacional de California vía AP)
In this image from video, provided by the California National Guard, airmen with the 129th Rescue Wing drop virus testing kits down to the Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California Thursday, March 5, 2020. Scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay, officials ordered a cruise ship with 3,500 people aboard to stay back from the California coast Thursday until passengers and crew can be tested, after a traveler from its previous voyage died of the disease and at least two others became infected. The California National Guard 129th Rescue Wing lowered test kits onto the 951-foot (290-meter) Grand Princess by rope as the vessel lay at anchor off Northern California, and authorities said the results would be available on Friday. Princess Cruise Lines said fewer than 100 people aboard had been identified for testing. (California National Guard via AP)
Passengers look out from balconies aboard the Grand Princess as it cruises a holding pattern about 25 miles off the coast of San Francisco on Sunday, March 8, 2020. The ship is expected to dock in Oakland in the east San Francisco Bay on Monday. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the mayor of Oakland sought Sunday to reassure the public that none of the passengers from the ship with multiple cases of the new coronavirus will be released into the public before undergoing a 14-day quarantine. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
Carrying multiple people who have tested positive for COVID-19, the Grand Princess maintains a holding pattern about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, Sunday, March 8, 2020. The cruise ship is scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland on Monday. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
A man wears a mask aboard the Grand Princess as it maintains a holding pattern about 25 miles off the coast of San Francisco on Sunday, March 8, 2020. The cruise ship is scheduled to dock at the Port of Oakland on Monday for COVID-19 quarantine after 21 people tested positive for the virus. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
SPRINGFIELD, VA - MARCH 7: Local Target store in the D.C area depleted of cleaning and sanitizing supplies and left with empty shelves as fear grow of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) reports increasing on March 7, 2020 in Springfield, Virginia. Credit: mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX
SPRINGFIELD, VA - MARCH 7: Local Target store in the D.C area depleted of cleaning and sanitizing supplies and left with empty shelves as fear grow of COVID-19 (the coronavirus) reports increasing on March 7, 2020 in Springfield, Virginia. Credit: mpi34/MediaPunch /IPX
The headquarters for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shown on Friday, March 6, 2020 in Atlanta, Georgia. President Donald Trump's trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, briefly scuttled Friday because of unfounded fears that someone there had contracted the coronavirus, was back on, giving the president another chance to calm growing alarm about the spread of the virus in America. (AP Photo/ Ron Harris)
An ambulance backs into a parking lot, Friday, March 6, 2020, at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., which has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Washington state. This ambulance left the facility after a short time and did not transport a patient. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Ambulance workers move a man on a stretcher from the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash. into an ambulance, Friday, March 6, 2020. The facility is the epicenter of the outbreak of the the COVID-19 coronavirus in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
A woman uses protective gloves as she looks at her phone wrapped in a plastic bag while riding a New York City subway train, Monday, March 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar looks on as President Donald Trump shows a spending bill to combat the Coronavirus, at the White House, Friday, March 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
President Donald Trump holds a photograph of coronavirus as Dr. Steve Monroe,right, with CDC speaks to members of the press at the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday, March 6, 2020. President Trump's trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, briefly scuttled Friday because of unfounded fears that someone there had contracted the coronavirus, was back on, giving the president another chance to calm growing alarm about the spread of the virus in America. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Photo by: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 3/6/20 People wear masks to protect themselves from the Corona Virus in New York City.
Photo by: John Nacion/STAR MAX/IPx 2020 3/6/20 People wear masks to protect themselves from the Corona Virus in New York City. Shoppers have cleared store shelves of sanitizing products.
Vice President Mike Pence, left, arrives with Debi Birx, center, White House coronavirus response coordinator, and Robert Redfield, right, director of the CDC, Thursday, March 5, 2020, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state for a visit with state officials. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Vice President Mike Pence greets Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, left, as Pence arrives, Thursday, March 5, 2020 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Officials are avoiding handshakes due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

It’s been difficult to restock the store, Bruneau said, because suppliers are struggling to manufacture enough product to meet demand. She said “tons of people” have been calling ahead to see what’s available. 

“I think a lot of people are seeing what’s going on in the [grocery] stores and want to make sure they’ve got what they need if they’re in a bind. Who knows what people are going to do,” she added, referring to concerns about possible looting or other lawlessness in response to the pandemic. 

People are also stocking up, as prices are expected to jump due to the higher demand, she said.

An employee at Oak Ridge Firearms in Oak Ridge, New Jersey, who asked not to be identified, said there’s been significantly more interest than normal from first-time buyers.

In New Jersey, which has some of the most restrictive firearm laws in the country, prospective first-time gun owners must apply for permits through the state police. It can take weeks for a permit to be issued, if at all.

“They call and have no idea what the process is,” the employee said. “They’re frustrated because they want something right now.”

David Liu, right, owner of a gun store, takes an order from a customer in Arcadia, Calif., Sunday, March 15, 2020. 

Like Carrara’s Gun Shop in Vermont, Oak Ridge Firearms has seen an increase in firearm purchases, particularly shotguns, but not as much as the demand for ammunition. The Oak Ridge employee estimated the shop has sold about three to four times the amount of ammo compared to this time last year. 

“I can’t say I’ve ever seen something like this because of disease happening before,” he told HuffPost. “Some people are concerned there could be lawlessness.”

Firearm sales often spike after mass shootings, especially since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, because some people fear the government will impose tighter gun restrictions in their aftermath.

But the boost in sales during the coronavirus pandemic is likely fueled in large part by concerns of social unrest, said Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law and an expert on gun policy. He said he’s not surprised to see lines out the door at some gun stores, and he expects sales to continue to grow as long as stores remain open.

When you depend on the government for social [stability] and all of a sudden it seems like the government isn’t going to be able to provide that, people get scared.Adam Winkler, gun policy expert and UCLA School of Law professor

“We have seen this before,” Winkler said. “We saw in Los Angeles when the riots occurred back in the early 1990s, a lot of people were purchasing guns. When people feel a crisis is coming and social order may be disrupted, being armed and self-defense is an age-old idea.”

While mass shootings mostly drive existing gun owners to add to their stockpiles, first-time buyers are likely a “large slice of the pie” of the sales amid the coronavirus spread, Winkler said.

“People do sometimes choose to buy guns when they’re facing the possibility of social breakdown ― and sometimes for good reason,” Winkler said, noting the looting and crime that occurred in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

“It shows that there is this primal need for self-defense,” he added. “When you depend on the government for social [stability] and all of a sudden it seems like the government isn’t going to be able to provide that, people get scared.”

Though self-protection may be a motive for many gun buyers, studies show that living in a house with a gun increases the risk of death. Homicides and suicides are far more likely to occur when a gun is present in a household, according to a 2014 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Having a gun in the house also increases the potential for a deadly accident. Firearms are the second leading cause of death among American children and adolescents, behind car crashes. At least 73 children under the age of 12 were accidentally killed by guns in 2018. Those gun deaths were often related to a child’s access to a firearm, and were either self-inflicted or at the hands of another child, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute.

People stand in line outside the Martin B. Retting, Inc. guns store on March 15, 2020 in Culver City, California.

The first confirmed case in the U.S. of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was reported on January 21. As of Monday, the virus had infected nearly 3,500 people across 49 states, as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. At least 68 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19.

Reports about increased firearm and ammo sales in the last month are largely anecdotal. The FBI’s monthly report on firearm background checks initiated through the NICS system is often a strong indicator of whether gun sales have increased in a given period of time. At the time of publication, the FBI had not yet posted numbers for March.

Background checks are required when a person is seeking to purchase a gun from a federal firearms licensee, which includes major chains like Walmart, small independent shops, and some individual retailers.

In January, the NICS system processed 2,165,094 background checks, a nearly 25% increase from a year earlier, according to FBI data. Last month, there were 2,802,467 background checks, marking a more than 36% increase from the prior February.

A spokeswoman for the FBI would not speculate on the possible causes for an increase in background checks.

“There are many factors that could cause fluctuations at any time,” she said.

A gun store customer that gave his name only at John waits in line, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Burbank, Calif. 

Ammo.com, an online retailer of ammunition, said it’s seen a surge in sales that correlates with the spread of the coronavirus. Sales in Delaware have grown by more than 4,500% ― the most of any state, according to the website. Customers in Vermont, Maryland, Mississippi and Louisiana, where confirmed cases of the virus have steadily increased, have also placed substantially more orders than normal.

“On March 10, 2020 – the day confirmed cases in the US reached over 1,000, increasing ten-fold in a week – we noticed an unprecedented 276% sales surge that continued through the end of last week and the weekend,” Ammo.com said in a statement.

The site said it has seen increases in sales in every single state, with the exception of those to which they don’t ship: Alaska, California and Hawaii.

Lines have wrapped around some firearms stores in California, with customers waiting hours at times to get inside, reported The Los Angeles Times

Ray, a medical doctor who only provided his first name to the Times, was one of several first-time buyers waiting in line last week at Martin B. Retting Gun Shop in Culver City.

“I want to buy a handgun, I think they call it a Glock, but I’m not sure,” he said. “I have a house and a family, and they’ll need protection if things get worse.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Read Full Story