A record 2.5 million guns were sold in March, up 85% compared with the same month last year, according to an analysis released Wednesday by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting that said all the speculation about pandemic-induced buying was accurate.
Even with gun shops shut down by order of some mayors and governors, Americans still set records.
The FBI reported a record 3.7 million background checks in March. The previous record was 3.3 million in December 2015.
SAAF uses the FBI records for its projections but adjusts them because not all background checks equate to purchases.
With its adjustments, SAAF estimated more than 1.5 million single handgun sales and more than 835,000 single long-gun sales in March. Of the 210,000 likely sales, most were multiple purchases that can’t be broken down into rifles and handguns.
Last March’s numbers were about 800,000 single handgun sales and about 480,000 single long-gun sales.
“Much of the industry’s inventory will have been depleted, so we anticipate that weapons and ammunition prices increased as well,” said SAAF Chief Economist Jurgen Brewer.
SAAF said the rise in handgun sales was particularly striking: 1.8 handguns were sold for every long gun. That is the highest ratio since the FBI began its national background check system in 1998.
Americans’ interest in guns amid the virus crisis has become a fixation for the press and some politicians. Mayors and governors in liberal areas deem gun stores nonessential and have subjected them to the same shutdown orders as restaurants, movie theaters and clothing stores.
Gun rights activists have responded with lawsuits arguing that the sales are protected under the Constitution’s Second Amendment and a total ban is illegal.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat facing a number of lawsuits over his declared ban, reversed himself this week and allowed gun stores to reopen.
He said he was following federal guidance.
The Homeland Security Department over the weekend released a memo saying gun stores should be considered essential businesses, immune to shelter-in-place and shutdown orders.
Firearms activists said Mr. Murphy was embarrassed by having his own armed security detail with him even as he shuttered stores.
The Second Amendment Foundation, one of the groups that sued New Jersey, said shutting down gun shops doesn’t block only new purchases; it also prevents current owners from buying ammunition.
“Regardless what some politicians might think, the Second Amendment is not subject to emergency orders, same as the First, Fourth, Fifth or other constitutional protections,” said Alan Gottlieb, executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.
The Homeland Security Department memo is not binding but was “persuasive,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who announced on Twitter that he was reversing his stance that firearms stores be closed.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, closed gun establishments as nonessential on March 23 and then partially reversed his order on Tuesday by saying manufacturers and distributors could start up.
But he still is shuttering gun retailers as nonessential, according to the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action.
Gun control activists defend the shutdowns and say the federal memo is misguided.
“During this crisis, we should be focused on the health and safety of all Americans — not the bottom line of the gun industry,” said Adam Skaggs, policy director at the Giffords Law Center, created by former Rep. Gabby Giffords, a victim of a 2011 shooting. “Public health experts are the ones best positioned to make vital choices about what businesses should remain open for our nation’s well-being.”
Brady: United Against Gun Violence, another group, said the sales record in March was bad news and blamed fearmongering by the NRA and others.
“Guns won’t save people from coronavirus,” said Kris Brown, Brady’s president. Having more guns in homes at a time when people are told to stay home is a recipe for accidental shootings and domestic violence, he said.
Gun control is a particularly hot issue in Philadelphia, where the city slammed the door on gun shops and city police stopped issuing new carry permits, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
The city announced in March that police would stop making arrests for some crimes but made clear prosecutors would pursue those charged with gun crimes, including carrying a firearm without a permit.
Still, police reported this week that the number of shootings remains high while other crime rates have dropped.
“People do not believe that there is a consequence for carrying an illegal gun,” said Mayor Jim Kenney, a Democrat who said prosecutors must file more cases.
Runs on guns are common during national crises and after mass shootings, when gun enthusiasts fear lawmakers will restrict access.
But the record numbers show that the nationwide surge during the new coronavirus outbreak is unlike anything before.
In Colorado, gun sales are running so high that the state’s background check system is overloaded, TV station KDVR reported. Some checks were taking so long that they exceeded the time allowed, and dealers sold the guns without complete checks.
KDVR said at least one banned buyer was able to purchase a gun, sending the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to try to recover the weapon.