A combination of circumstances led 2020 to be a top year for gun sales. The spike started in the spring as the COVID-19 virus amped up.
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Because gun sales began the climb in spring, the effect of the 2020 elections should not be counted as a major factor. The NY Times tracked sales from 2000. The biggest spike from January 2000 to April 2020 was in January 2012, just after Obama’s election and a school shooting. March 2020 saw nearly as many guns sold as during that high point, both of which far eclipsed the record set before Obama was elected.
Part of the reason behind the panic is the shutdown ordered by many governors as the pandemic ramped up. As stores closed, people began to worry about civil unrest. American Progress, a very left-leaning think tank, pointed to several news stories about panicked gun buying. “Anecdotes emerged of individuals who had never considered buying guns before rushing to gun stores to make their first purchase, motivated by the fear and uncertainty of this unprecedented moment. Since this early reporting, data have confirmed a dramatic increase in the number of guns purchased during the pandemic,” the website reports.
In mid-March, National Public Radio interviewed people in California who were buying guns. Colin, no last name given, told the radio news service, “It’s really just a matter of if things go bad in the next couple weeks to a couple of months and people are panicking and rioting and looting, the government and the police will not have the ability to protect us. And that’s really the main issue, it’s not really out of fear it’s just out of being prepared.”
Skyrocketing gun sales in the US also drew national attention. The BBC reported, “Americans grappling with the rapidly-spreading coronavirus purchased more guns last month than at any other point since the FBI began collecting data over 20 years ago. Why? With the death toll climbing every day and most of the country under some form of lockdown, many Americans seem to be turning to guns as part of their response.”
The FBI report 210,000 background checks on March 21 day, a new single-day record. The FBI, not the BATF, is the federal agency responsible for running background checks on gun purchases.
In part, those fears over civil unrest were justified. While COVID-19 surged, the nation was still in the middle of ANTIFA protests that began in 2019. Later incidents, including Seattle, merely added to those fears. Whether valid or not, worries about the Seattle Autonomous Zone concept spreading to other places scared many. Cries of “defund the police” added to these fears as Americans believed they would have to rely on themselves for protection.
Are those worries valid? Do Americans really need to rely on themselves in an emergency? In a word, yes. Americans are told from an early age “in an emergency, seconds count.” Keep that in mind for this next fact. The National Sheriff’s Association reports law enforcement response time to calls has gone down over the years, but is still counted in minutes. “While calling 911 in an emergency has been around for ages, it can take too long from the time an emergency is reported to the time officers arrive on the scene. The average … shooting lasts 12.5 minutes, while the average police response time is 18 minutes, the Association says.
As noted above, a lot can happen in 18 minutes, something Americans are very aware of.
A prime example of COVID-19 panic-driven buying is the toilet paper shortage. A second panic buying spree also directly linked to the pandemic is ammunition, a problem that just got worse during the year. For example, 9mm ammunition in January 2020 was available for as little as 19¢ per round. By September, if you could find any, it was 50¢ or more per round. Other ammo saw dramatic increases. Only less common rounds, like the 10mm, kept relatively sane prices.
Past spikes were driven by the fear of gun legislation. This time, the C-19 panic drove people to buy guns. “People are nervous that there’s a certain amount of civil disorder that might come if huge numbers of people are sick and a huge number of institutions are not operating normally,” Timothy Lytton, a law professor at Georgia State University and an expert on the gun industry told the NYT. “They may have an anxiety about protecting themselves if the organs of state are starting to erode.”
In the early winter of 2020, gun prices soared, probably more due to the election of Joe Biden than the Coronavirus. Gun prices remained pretty steady through the COVID-19 buying panic but seriously jumped after the election. A pawn shop in rural South Georgia was selling inexpensive used pump shotguns like the Mossberg 500 for $250 in the first of the year. By mid-October, the same shotgun was $350, about the same price for a new one, if you could find one.
Prices for “black guns” like the AR 15 soared even higher. Plain .223/5.56 AR platform guns sold for $350-$500 during the spring. By late fall, a good deal was $800. The same buying spike that sent gun prices through the roof also saw AR15 parts double in price.
As the nation’s attention focuses on Georgia and the Senate race, we may see yet another massive surge in gun purchases. Buyers will try to get ahead of Democrat-led gun control efforts if Democrats win the Senate.