Demand for guns slows background checks

CHESWOLD — Before the pandemic, the majority of gun buyers left stores with weapons in hand. But with roughly twice as many sales in March, according to FBI statistics, getting those purchases approved takes a little longer these days.

Shooter’s Choice Manager Kim McDaniel said Monday that prior to COVID’s impact on Delaware, about 95% of approved buyers left the store with their new gun that day. Now, in the midst of an overwhelming demand for firearms, she said about 60% of purchasers are cleared to buy on the spot.

What used to be an almost immediate approval process from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System has slowed to a crawl

Ms. McDaniel said about 40% of applications are now delayed, up from 5% before COVID-19’s arrival. The wait can regularly take anywhere from 3 to 25 days, she said.

“It’s pretty simple — they’re overwhelmed with requests and the backlog keeps growing,” she said during yet another extremely busy day this month.

“People aren’t happy but it’s not like they can call them up and ask what’s taking so long.”

Her theory is indeed the case. According to statistics on the FBI’s website, the system processed 4,482 background checks in Delaware in January, 4,321 in February and 8,123 in March.

The data shows neighboring states experiencing significant rises in gun sales as well:

•Maryland averaged 14,483 checks in January and February, followed by 29,414 total last month.

•Pennsylvania averaged 90,732 during the first two months, and had 125,013 checks in March.

•New Jersey rose from 8,313 to 8,548 to 10,922 in the same three-month span.

When background checks are delayed, the FBI doesn’t provide the reasons why as the process continues.

“They don’t tell us anything about somebody else’s background so the only thing to do is wait,” Smyrna Sporting Goods owner Brian Brown said.

Gun sales at Shooter’s Choice are up “a minimum of three times more than usual, some days more than that,” Ms. McDaniel said.

While it’s mostly left unsaid, Mr. Brown said he believes most purchases are “mainly for home protection due to the pandemic.

“People a looking for some peace of mind. They’re not so worried anymore about the laws changing and guns being taken, it’s more about increasing their ability to remain safe.”

While gun shops were initially deemed non-essential and ordered closed by Gov. John Carney’s emergency order on March 24, they were allowed to re-open on March 27 with restrictions limiting the number of patrons inside the business.

Sales have “soared” at Steele’s Gun Shop near Lewes, where Charles Steele estimated them to be double the typical business. While the store would typically file four to six background checks daily, the total is about 10 to 15 now. No more than three customers are allowed inside at once due to the shop’s size.

“People are looking for security,” Mr. Steele said. “At first in March there was a panic but now everyone is in a good mood. They just want to have a handgun or shotgun for protection.”

Ammunition of all calibers is in short supply, which Mr. Brown attributed to the slowed flow of crucial raw materials from China to the United States.

“The manufacturers need to receive the lead before they can make bullets and right now that’s in short supply,” he said.

When it comes to ordering ammunition, Mr. Brown said it’s more that the distributor will allocate whatever can be spared.

“We pretty much have to take whatever we can get, which isn’t much,” he said.

Shooter’s Choice limits customers to one package of each ammunition caliber per day, and a single firearm purchase. There are only 10 customers allowed inside at a time and a line outside is typical.

“They’re coming in to buy any kind of handgun or home self-defense (weapon),” Ms. McDaniel said. “They want to be prepared for who knows what may come along.”

Fire range usage is around 25% of typical use, she said. Many Shooter’s Choice regulars are in the age group most susceptible to coronavirus concerns, she said.

“I want to see our regulars back in here but they should be staying home to stay safe,” she said.

Business has never been better, Ms. McDaniel said, but her hope for a lull is two-fold — for society to make a healthy recovery and to end the nonstop challenge of meeting customer demand.

“I’ll be happy when it’s over,” she said. “There’s the stress of now having the inventory for people and having the worry for our staff when people walk in wearing masks, all of it.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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