Fear driving record Ohio gun sales among people who have never owned one

Background checks for Ohioans seeking to buy guns increase more than 50% in 2020 from the previous year because of uncertainty around the coronavirus and fear of civil unrest, local gun shop owners said. They expect the trend will continue in the new year.

Andrew Palmer, owner of Palmer Firearms in Beavercreek, said 2020 was a record year for gun and ammo sales at his shop, adding about 70% or 80% of people who come into his store are first time gun buyers.

“People are scared about the unknowns,” Palmer said.

In 2020, the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System recorded nearly 977,000 total checks in Ohio in 2020, a 53% increase from the 638,000 2019 background checks.

In March, the background check system recorded 114,086 background checks from Ohio, which was the second highest statewide tally since 1998. Background checks are used as data to measure gun sales because they are performed when someone buys a firearm, however, the background checks don’t say how many firearms a person is buying at one time or if a purchase actually happened.

Background checks  
Data from FBI's NICS Firearm Checks 

In November 2020, the system recorded 94,000 background checks. In December, 85,200.

Palmer said he has talked to customers who fear a civil war is coming or fear stricter gun control laws or gun bans. He has talked to customers who are extremely concerned about division in the U.S.

Foot traffic in the store has gone up considerably since March and held steady.

“It is crazy (in the store) until we close,” Palmer said.

David Becker, owner of Miami Armory, said his store saw well over 40% more sales in 2020 than in 2019. About 75% of people coming into the store in 2020 hadn’t owned a gun before.

“This all really started with COVID and the consumer response to COVID, which was fearful of government overreach, fearful of looting,” Becker said.

Becker said the new gun owners are from all walks of life. His shop has seen more women shooters in recent years. Becker said recently he has seen people who would generally be anti-gun come into his shop.

Recently there was another spike in sales, Becker said, which could be due to a number of factors, including stimulus checks being issued, the violence at the Capitol last week and the upcoming inauguration.

“They didn’t like the violence, but they’re prepared for if something were to come to their front step,” Becker said. “They fall in line with people who would say ‘that’s not American.’”

Explore‘I had an old lady that wanted me to strap a holster to her walker;’ Local gun owners says fear driving record-breaking sales

Bother Becker and Palmer said when the Sandy Hook mass school shooting happened in 2012, sales were high for a few months because people were fearful. This is the longest spike in sales Palmer said he can remember.

“COVID persists, lockdowns persist, there is a change in administration, there was violence over the summer... I would say American society is a little unnerved just because there’s a lot of change going on,” Becker said.

U.S. sales high

Twenty-one million background checks were conducted over the past 12 months in the U.S., according to NICS data. That topped 2019′s totals of 13.2 million by 60%. It also shattered the previous record from 2016, when 15.7 million background checks were conducted.

“A lot of customers who come in are scared. They’re concerned,” Palmer said.

Palmer said a lot more people are asking for information about classes on how to use the guns or get a concealed carry license.

Becker said the classes his store offers are completely sold out through the summer months. In 2019, most people could find an opening within a two week span, he said.

“All of our classes are booked. Now a days you’re at the mercy of what is open on the schedule, which is easily four to six weeks out,” Becker said.

Jeff Pedro, who owns SimTrainer indoor shooting range and firearms training center, said he is adding classes every month and booking months in advance.

“It’s off the charts,” Pedro said.

Pedro said about 90% of people in his classes are new gun owners. Most people he sees are doing a basic handgun training, then purchasing a gun and taking concealed carry class with gun they bought, Pedro said.

“(The number of new gun owners) doesn’t surprise me, it’s like the natural progression of things just because of the way the world has turned in the past year,” Pedro said. “People feel helpless.”

SimTrainer teaches basic and advanced gun skills for various types of firearms, like rifles and handguns. In 2020, SimTrainer added a riot survival class. Every single one was full, Pedro said. Those classes were popular because of the civil unrest in the months after George Floyd was killed.

“People are looking at ways they can personally defend themselves because they know in mass chaotic situations the police are too busy,” Pedro said.

In the third quarter of 2020, the most recent data available, there were 214 concealed-carry licenses issued in Montgomery County and 354 licenses renewed, according to concealed carry data from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost’s website. That is up about 35% from the second quarter of 2020.

Through the third quarter of 2020, there were about 31,000 licenses issued throughout the state. Through that same period in 2019, there were about 12,000 licenses issued in Ohio, the data from the Ohio Attorney General’s office showed.

Joe Eaton of the Buckeye Firearms Association said gun restriction talk increases sales.

“Starting back in March when the problems with the pandemic and a lot of the civil unrest started, most people are looking at firearm ownership for personal and family protection,” Eaton said. “Any time you have politicians who are vocal about restricting the private ownership of firearms, that causes concerns for a lot of people even if they are not gun owners. That causes a lot of people to maybe consider making a purchase they may have been putting off.”

The unprecedented number of sales is leaving many store shelves empty or nearly empty.

“The limiting factor going forward is going to be the manufacturer’s ability to keep up with demand,” Eaton said.

Pedro said before the pandemic, a box of 9 millimeter ammo would cost between $12.95 and $14.95, now it costs between $35 and $50.

“It’s not unlike toilet paper,” Pedro said. “People went out and bought extra ammo anticipating civil unrest and then you add that to supply chain shortages because of COVID.”

Pedro said people who take his classes are now paying for the class and the ammo they will use to make sure the ammo will be there for them.

“I have to get what (ammo) I can, when I can get it and kind of ration it over time,” Pedro said.

Becker, with Miami Armory, said there are so many new gun owners out there that it has created an ammo shortage and firearm shortage. Manufacturers can’t keep up with increased demand. Becker said this should alleviate itself some time over the summer if things get back to a new normal.

“If society could get back to some normalcy, you wouldn’t see this panic buying,” Becker said. “Overall this is not something we won’t get through. Biden will get his administration in hand, COVID will eventually take a rest and so will some of those government restrictions.”

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