Gun sales soar to record pace amid virus, unrest

From left, Shakima Walker, Madison Mitchell, Maria Quigley and Sean Strehle help a customer with a gun sale at the Trading Post in Camden. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — First the coronavirus pandemic arrived in mid-March,

Then the eruption of civil unrest following George Floyd’s May 25 death during an arrest in Minneapolis.

Scared and uncertain as the calamities continue, Delawareans are still rushing to purchase firearms at a record pace, gun sellers report.

And with a potentially volatile presidential campaign season upcoming, they say, firearms and ammunition will likely keep flying off the shelves.

That’s if there’s any merchandise available — business owners say manufacturers can’t keep up with orders to receive more.

“Supplies are already down to almost nothing and you’re really not hopeful of getting restocked anytime soon,” Hopkins Gun Shop owner Dale Hopkins said in Milton.

In Delaware, the number of federal background checks — required to confirm or deny eligibility to purchase a firearm — more than doubled in March and June (16,438 combined) compared to 2019 (8,189) and rose significantly in April and May (10,559) from last year (7,501).

Data was compiled through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System administered by the FBI.

Attempts to receive statistics on concealed carry of a deadly weapon permit applications from Delaware Superior Court were unsuccessful.

Presidential candidate debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights may increase the pace even more, National Shooting Sports Foundation Public Affairs Director Mark Oliva said.

“If you look at history, in an election year the gun debate comes to the forefront,” he said.

First-time gun buyers are flocking through the Trading Post pawn and gun shop doors in Camden, with a recurring mantra, according to General Manager Lance Moffa.

The Trading Post pawn and gun shop in Camden.

“They’re almost always buying them for home defense,” he said. “In the past we’d see a lot of gun traders who do it as a hobby, but now we’re seeing people coming in because they’re scared,” he said.

“They say they don’t like the way the country is going and need more protection than they have. When they see the amount of protests and how quickly they can turn violent, they’re concerned for their own safety and their family’s safety.”

And while shotguns are often the first choice if available, “Then they’ll take whatever is easy to use, like a revolver,” Mr. Moffa said.

Eventually, Mr. Moffa believes, his business will run out of stock. He pointed out that the closure of supply sources such as lead mines in Missouri and copper mines in South America add to the scramble.

Mr. Hopkins echoed the view on shotguns and first-time buyers, “People who will openly tell you they were anti-gun and never would have even considered purchasing a gun before COVID-19 and then the unrest and demonstrations.”

With 27 years in the business, Mr. Hopkins has seen runs on gun sales leading up to presidential elections “that may be controversial,” but “things eventually return to normal.”

The one-two punch of the pandemic and calls to end systemic racism and push for greater police accountability, along with the presidential election in November brings a time in history “which is different than anything that we’ve ever experienced before, it’s just something we’ve never seen and frankly there’s no end in sight right now,” Mr. Hopkins said.

Additionally, any firearm-related items like holsters and gun cases are being quickly bought up, according to Mr. Hopkins.

“Supplies are already down to almost nothing and there’s no (expectation) that you’re going to get restocked anytime soon,” he said.

The surge has put a strain on staff at Shooter’s Choice in Cheswold.

“We’re mudding through it,” general manager Kim McDaniel said. “We’re all tired and we hardly ever get a break. There’s no lull in the action, it just never stops.”

The volume of indoor shooting range visitors is up 30% or higher, and Ms. McDaniel said “We never know when a big rush is going to arrive.”

For converse reasons, Hunters Haven owner Joe Watkinson said there’s never been a higher demand for archery products in 18 years. Instead of protection, customers are buying bows to relax in lieu of other now-restricted venues due to COVID-19 health concerns.

“People are cooped up inside their homes and if you can’t sit in bars and drink or eat in a restaurant, or no longer have sports to watch, why now take a bow and get away by yourself?” Mr. Watkinson asked rhetorically.

“This is a sport where you can relax and challenge yourself, it’s just you and the target.”