Gun shop owners have never seen such a surge in sales — not after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, not in reaction to mass shootings, not even when Category 5 hurricanes threatened to flatten South Florida.
Fear and uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic are motivating people to buy guns and ammunition as they seek protection from possible doomsday disintegration into lawlessness, with home invasions, looting, runs on banks, and fights over food, medicine, hospital beds and shelter across the land.
“Our sales are up 80 percent, with a huge increase in first-time buyers who are worried about martial law, economic collapse, unemployment, shortages, delinquents roaming the streets,” said Alex Elenberg, manager of Charlie’s Armory on West Flagler Street.
The United States is the home of the world’s largest gun-owning population per capita, where 40 percent of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with guns. Even so, concern about the accelerating spread of COVID-19 is causing a spike in sales, according to sellers and data from gun-tracking agencies, such as the FBI’s National Instant Crime Background Check System, which saw a doubling of checks on applicant buyers last week.
In Florida, the number of background checks posted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which closely correlates with the number of gun sales statewide, has risen to unprecedented levels, up nearly 500 percent on Friday alone, with 13,192 checks recorded compared to 2,646 on the same date last year.
“I think it’s a little too knee-jerk on the part of consumers, just like the toilet paper hoarding,” said Jorge Corbato, owner of Nebulous Ordnance Defense in Miami. “Do you really believe this virus is apocalyptic?”
Guns provide tangible comfort in a time of desperation, Corbato said. It’s like people are arming themselves against helplessness.
“I’m not trying to scare anybody during coronavirus. I will never convince anybody to buy a gun. It’s a big responsibility, owning a firearm. I don’t relate to the gun nuts or the ‘take it from my cold, dead hands’ philosophy. My customers are level-headed, and if I see someone who is too weird, I won’t sell to them.”
At Brady: United Against Gun Violence, the organization behind the Brady Law that mandated a five-day waiting period on handgun purchases, President Kris Brown has issued a safety warning: New guns in new hands could add to the trauma of the pandemic.
“The unintended consequence of these panic-induced purchases in response to COVID-19 could be a tragic increase of preventable gun deaths for the loved ones these individuals are trying to protect,” Brown said. “While it is understandable to seek what can feel like protection in times of upheaval, we must acknowledge the risks that bringing guns into the home pose and take all appropriate measures to mitigate that risk.”
Unsecured firearms in homes can lead to unintentional shootings, what Brady calls “Family Fire,” shootings that injure or kill an average of eight children or teens every day. Improperly stored, unlocked guns at home increase the risk of death in a domestic violence incident by up to 500 percent and double the likelihood of a fatal outcome in a suicide attempt. Three quarters of all school shootings are by kids who have access to unsupervised guns at home.
Brown urged gun owners to lock unloaded guns in a safe and store ammunition separately, citing a University of Washington study of gun owners who had attended gun safety events and received free locking devices. Nevertheless, 40 percent of participants did not lock their guns at home, and 15 percent said their guns were loaded and unlocked at home, even when kids were around.