Panic Buying of Guns Creates New Risks

Given the spike in gun sales we’re seeing in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve put together a toolkit to educate the public about the dangers of stockpiling weapons. I would love it if folks could amplify the message or record a #StopTheCoronavirusGunSurge video (last page of the toolkit).

We’ve been following this fairly closely and so I’m attaching an update below on where things stand. Very few news stories include quotes highlighting the dangers of panic-buying weapons and it would be helpful to get more health care, responsible gun owner, and law enforcement voices into the mix.

Igor Volsky
Guns Down America’s Igor Volsky explains why we have so many mass killings in the US.

Update on where things stand as of 3/23/2020:

Spikes in gun & ammo sales: 

  • On March 10, the day the U.S. reached 1,000 cases of coronavirus, the gun industry saw an unprecedented 276% sales surge in ammunition nationwide, according to a data study published by [See their map here]
  • Federal background checks when a firearm is sold at retail showed that such checks were up 300% on March 16, compared with the same date last year, according to Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. [Source]
  • The National Instant Criminal Background Check System said it responded to inquiries on 2.8 million prospective gun-buyers last month — the third-highest monthly total since the system was created in 1998, and up from 2 million in February last year. [Source]
  • Since March 10, panic buying of guns and ammunition has helped drive a steep rise in stock prices for American Outdoor Brands, the parent company of Smith & Wesson; Vista Outdoor, which owns several ammunition companies; and Sturm, Ruger & Co. [Source]

States & cities with lockdown orders (many states following DHS guidelines): 

  • Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealers deemed “essential” and OPEN
    • IL: defined FFLs as “for purposes of safety and security” as “Essential Businesses” and they are thus open [Source]
    • CT: FFLs “essential” [Source]
    • OH: deemed “essential” [Source]
    • KY: Beshear’s order includes language that nothing in the order is meant to “interfere with the lawful sale of firearms and ammunition.” Those businesses must follow social distancing and hygiene guidance from the CDC or they could face closure, according to the order. [Source]
  • FFLs deemed not essential and CLOSED
    • CA: deemed “non-essential” [Source]
    • PA: order closed all “non-life-sustaining businesses,” including FFLs
    • NJ: “Per Executive Order 107, (Murphy) is ordering the residents of New Jersey to stay home, directing all non-essential retail businesses closed to the public,” a notice on the online system states. “At this time, the order includes New Jersey Firearms State Licensed Dealers.” [Source]
    • NY: [Source]
    • DE: [Source]
  • Unclear if OPEN or CLOSED
    • LA: I called several gun stores, they were open, said they were unsure if lockdown applied to them.
    • MO (St. Louis) Some businesses are allowed to stay open, but that list of businesses (including gas stations and laundromats) does not include gun or ammo shops. [Source]
    • City of Bellingham, WA debates closing gun stores on 3/23/2020; gun owners organize against it.
Panic Buying of Guns
Gun and ammunition dealers have seen a spike in first-time customers who fear that the pandemic could lead to a breakdown of public order.

Gun groups challenge lockdown orders: 

  • NRA releases video on 3/21/2020 urging people to panic buy guns [Source], saying “Americans are flocking to gun stores because they know the only reliable self-defense during a crisis is the #2A.”
  • NSSF urges DHS to declare FFLs “essential”: “Whether it is providing firearms or ammunition to military, law enforcement, and law-abiding citizens or ensuring that they have access to shooting ranges for training, the firearm industry is a critical component of our nation’s security, public safety, and economic well-being. We must remain open for business. By including our industry among our nation’s critical infrastructure industries, you can help ensure that we are able to do so.” [Source]
  • PA: The Civil Rights Defense Firm filed an emergency application for extraordinary relief on behalf of a firearm dealer in Pennsylvania, as well as a Pennsylvanian who seeks to purchase a firearm. They argued, among other claims, that the Governor’s order violates the Second Amendment. The Governor filed an answer, and the City of Philadelphia field an amicus brief. Sunday evening, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied the Second Amendment claim with a one-sentence order: In all other respects, the Application is DENIED. [Source]
  • NJ: “Gov. Murphy surrounds himself with armed guards,” said Alexander Rubian, president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Society. “Clearly he understands the benefit of the Second Amendment. Why is his life more valuable?… “When the police have no legal obligation to protect citizens, which was upheld by the United States Supreme Court, yes, any person would believe gun stores that sell many tools for self-defense is extremely essential,” he said. [Source]
  • CA: Law Enforcement Today has learned that a northern California gun shop, Solar Tactical disputes its designation as “non-essential”” and will keep doors its open even though Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued “shelter in place” orders. KCRA 3 reported that Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelley said that for now, his office is going to “play nice”, but will soon follow with a “notice to close” order if the gun store owners refuse to close up on their own. [Source]

Pushback against panic buying: 

  • CAP: 4 Reasons Not To Buy Guns in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic [Source]
  • CNN (GDA/Sakran): Buying A Gun Isn’t An Answer To Coronavirus [Source]
  • NowThis (GDA): Video laying out the case against panic-buying guns [Source]
  • The Trace: Trust in Guns During Crises Is a Triumph of Marketing [Source]
  • The Trace: You Just Panic-Bought a Gun. Here’s How to Handle It Safely. [Source]

Deaths attributed to Coronavirus panic buying

  • Albuquerque, NM: A man in Albuquerque bought a gun due to the Coronavirus outbreak and shot his 13-year-old cousin, killing him. He said he didn’t think the gun was loaded. [Source]

Igor Volsky is the Executive Director of Guns Down America.

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