- The Washington Times - Monday, August 3, 2020

Gun sales surged an estimated 135% in July compared to last year as shops reported newfound interest in self-protection amid recent protests and violent clashes in cities across the U.S.

The FBI ran more than 3.6 million checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) last month — a 79% increase compared to July 2019.

The 3.6 million figure is the third-highest monthly total ever, behind the 3.9 million checks in June and the 3.7 million checks in March.

Gun sales more than doubled in July when non-gun purchase NICS checks, like permit checks, were taken out of the mix, analysts said.

“I’m just seeing things we haven’t seen before,” said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It is fear based.”

NICS checks aren’t a one-to-one correlation to gun sales, but they are used as a general approximation to gauge the health of the market.

Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a research firm, estimated that 2 million guns were actually sold in July — a 135% increase from July 2019.

“The firearms market continues at its far accelerated pace,” said Jurgen Brauer, the group’s chief economist.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, also estimated that the increase in NICS checks translated to a 135% surge in gun sales.

Shops like Mr. Hyatt’s have reported an uptick in interest following George Floyd’s death on May 25. Floyd, a Black man, died while being arrested by Minneapolis police officers — an incident that has sparked widespread protests against police brutality and sometimes-violent riots in recent months.

Federal agents have also clashed with the public in cities like Portland, Oregon, in recent weeks. In the wake of Floyd’s death, the city saw two straight months of protests, some of which escalated into violent clashes.

Mr. Hyatt said the models that are flying off his shelves are intended to be more for self-protection, rather than collector or hunting guns.

“You got almost a perfect storm with the virus, the Black Lives Matter, the riots, the defunding the police, economic uncertainty and political uncertainty,” he said. “I think a lot of people say if things go bad, how can I protect myself and my family?”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the leading trade group for the gun industry, said background checks increased by 123% in July.

Like SAAF, the group uses its own formula that subtracts non-gun sale checks from the FBI’s monthly totals.

“This period of sustained firearm purchases clearly shows that Americans continue to take responsibility for their personal safety, especially during times of uncertainty,” said Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the group.

The uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic also helped drive year-over-year monthly increases in checks in the first quarter of the year.

Mr. Oliva mentioned election-year gun politics as another possible factor.

Eight of the top 10 all-time highest weeks for NICS checks have been in 2020, and two of those weeks were in July.

Everytown said the surge comes at a time when hospitals are at capacity and the threat of gun violence is increasing.

“Polls show that the ongoing surge in gun sales is making Americans care more about gun safety, and if President Trump and his allies won’t listen, then we’ll find leaders who will,” said John Feinblatt, president of the group.

The new numbers were released by the FBI on the one-year anniversary of the Walmart shooting in Texas where a deranged gunman used an AK-47-style rifle to shoot and kill more than 20 people.

The man charged with capital murder in the case told authorities afterward that he wanted to shoot as many Hispanic people as possible. He has been linked to a racist manifesto that talks about Hispanic people overrunning the United States.

Likely Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden said the anniversary is a moment to recommit to a battle against the “plague of gun violence” in the country.

“We have to get these weapons of war out of our communities and hold accountable the gun manufacturers who do so much damage with impunity,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden has said he wants help from former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who as a 2020 presidential candidate vowed to come after Americans’ AR-15s if he were elected president.

Mr. Trump, who won the early endorsement of the National Rifle Association in 2016, made a direct appeal to pro-gun voters earlier this week.

“Joe Biden and the radical Democrats are against fracking, they’re against guns and they’re against the Bible, essentially,” Mr. Trump said at a “tele-rally” geared toward Pennsylvania voters. “They want to take away your Second Amendment.”

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