TUPELO • The coronavirus brought on shortages of many things including toilet paper and even food, but it also has triggered an unexpected shortage in guns and ammunition.
FBI numbers released Wednesday show that 3.9 million background checks were conducted last month, the most since the system was created in November 1998 to ensure felons and other prohibited people could not buy or possess a firearm. The previous monthly record came in March, when 3.7 million checks were done. Each week in June is now in the top 10 weeks for background checks.
Greg Grissom, the owner of Trigger Time Indoor Shooting Range in Tupelo, said the surge in demand has been “insane.”
“It all started with COVID and people wanted all the toilet paper and sanitizer they could get,” he said. “And then for some reason, people got scared and it shifted toward guns and ammo. It just went absolutely crazy, with people buying anything and everything. Then the rioting started, and it got worse. People got scared.”
Enhanced-carry classes offered at Trigger Time are filled through August. Private lessons are in high demand.
“Gun sales are through the roof,” he said.
He said customers were buying whatever they could get their hands on – handguns, rifles, shotguns and ARs.
“The problem now is ammo,” he said.
It’s the same story at Carr’s Guns and Ammunition in Saltillo, where owner Cindy Carr said she’s also never seen anything like the current demand surge.
Standing in the middle of her showroom, her long rifle rack, usually close to full with room for some two dozen weapons, only had a handful. The ammunition shelf was only about a third full.
“I can’t keep guns on the shelf,” Carr said. “And I can’t find the guns to replace the ones I’ve sold. It’s the same thing with ammo, especially for the pistols, like the 9s, 38s, 380s – they’re not there. Our vendors don’t have them either. We’ve been advised to order our hunting rounds because it’s not going to be there as they’re trying to fill the pistol ammo that they’re already behind on.”
Carr also said she can’t get primer for her customers who reload.
“I haven’t been able to get primers for three months,” she said.
Halfway through 2020, just over 19 million checks have been done, more than all of 2012 and each of the years before that.
Background checks are the key barometer of gun sales, but the FBI’s monthly figures also incorporate checks for permits that some states require to carry a firearm. Each background check also could be for the sale of more than one gun.
Firearm sales traditionally increase during presidential election years, fueled by fears among gun owners that the next president could restrict their rights. But this year has seen a series of previously unheard-of numbers as one crisis after another has emerged: the coronavirus, demonstrations over racial inequality and police brutality, as well as deep political divisions among Americans.
Adjusted to reflect only gun purchases, the number of checks for June was up nearly 136% over June 2019, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gunmakers. That adjusted figure was 2.2 million, the group said.
“Civil unrest, rioting, looting and calls to defund police are unquestionably motivating factors of why this trend is increasing. Americans are right to be concerned for their personal safety,” said Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the group.
Oliva said gun purchases are a reasonable reaction to the political climate.
“Politicians who entertain notions of defunding police departments are the same ones who call for strict gun control and even outright confiscation,” he said. “These figures aren’t push polls. They are representative of Americans from all walks of life who are taking action and taking responsibility for their rights and their safety.”
Gun control advocates worried that those buying a gun for personal safety may not have enough training to handle or store it correctly.
The eye-popping numbers began at the beginning of the year and continued to crush records amid the nation’s crises. So far, this year has seen half of the 10 busiest days on record and seven of the 10 busiest weeks – half of them in June.
An estimated 40% of those purchasing firearms are first-time buyers, the National Shooting Sports Foundation said.
Grissom said he doesn’t foresee a slowdown anytime soon, and will continue to scour for supplies across the country. But he’s finding it difficult like everyone else.
“There’s nothing to be gotten like it used to be,” Grissom said. “I used to could order guns and ammo one day and have it the next day. Not anymore. Now it’s gotten to two or three weeks to get any in. I’ve never seen anything like this. Nobody’s seen anything like this.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.