Americans are arming themselves more than ever, confronted with daily scenes of rioting across the country and lingering uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic.
Firearms sales rose 94% for the March-to-July period from a year earlier, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade group. About 40% of those sales went to first-time gun owners.
One of the nation’s largest gun makers, Smith & Wesson, said it will boost production after record-breaking sales. The company reported a 140% increase in gun sales from the beginning of May through the end of July.
“Consumer demand for our products during the quarter still exceeded our internal manufacturing capacity levels, ” Mark Smith, Smith & Wesson president and CEO, told investors in a call last week. “We’re continuing to ramp up We’re going to go to maximum capacity.”
The biggest increase in gun ownership by demographic group is among Black people — 58%.
Public polling is unclear whether the concern about safety and self-defense plays to the political benefit of either President Trump or Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden. Mr. Trump says Mr. Biden would allow left-wing mobs to control the streets; Mr. Biden says the current unrest is happening on Mr. Trump’s watch.
An ABC News/Washington Post national poll conducted in mid-August found that White voters in the suburbs were 20 percentage points more likely to say Mr. Biden would make them less safe than to say Mr. Trump would.
But a Quinnipiac University poll last week found that 50% of likely voters say having Mr. Trump as president makes them feel less safe, while 35% say it makes them feel more safe. Asked about Mr. Biden, 42% of respondents said having him as president would make them feel more safe, 40% said less safe.
In a CNN poll last week, 71% of female respondents said they were concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, while 45% said they were concerned about the risk of crime.
Rick Green, who teaches gun safety and self-defense courses through his nonprofit group Constitution Coach in Austin, Texas, said demand for his lessons has skyrocketed this year. He said the surge is due to both the pandemic and the rioting.
“We have five times as many people as normal — it’s off the charts,” Mr. Green said in an interview. “It’s people from every walk of life, young, old. More than half are females. It’s unfortunate that it’s driven by fear, but it is. They’re watching people be attacked, and not just in the streets, but in the suburbs now. It caused more and more people to say, ‘I need to be ready.’”
In his courses, which normally cost $1,000 but he is offering free this year, Mr. Green covers the Constitutional rights of self-defense, how to take care of weapons and the proper way to display firearms in a confrontation (including, he said, that you never point the muzzle at someone unless you intend to fire).
He said the civil unrest this year is causing more Americans to believe they need to rely on themselves, rather than police, for protection.
“I think the burden is just shifting from, ‘I’m going to count on government to do all this for me,’ to ‘Wait a minute, I am the government. We the people, we’re in charge. And I have a duty and responsibility,’” he said.
“I am encouraged by that. It’s a healthy thing for the country,” he said.