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As stores around the nation are struggling to keep up with the demand for food, toilet paper and hand sanitizer, there is another golden commodity fast disappearing from the shelves amid the coronavirus crisis: firearms.
Over the past week, gun stores countrywide have seen long lines and a wiping out of inventory as unnerved customers turn to their Second Amendment rights in the bid for self-protection.
"Firearms and ammunition sales are strong this week as many gun stores are quickly trying to restock inventory. There has been an uptick in inquiries for firearms training as families seek guidance on the selection, use and storage of a new firearm," Robyn Sandoval, 45, executive director of the Austin-based "A Girl & A Gun Women's Shooting League," told Fox News. "Law-abiding Americans want to have access to firearms during times of uncertainty. Families are social distancing and stocking up on food and supplies at home. The outbreak is creating a lot of anxiety in our communities. Families who have prepared at home want to be equipped to protect themselves from any looters or violence."
Background checks via the universal FBI system experienced a 34 percent uptick in February alone, processing almost 3 million. In January, as news of the new virus permeated from its origins in Wuhan, China, checks increased some 25 percent, according to the most recently available data.
Moreover, based on the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) summary of sales processed with a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the sales of firearms through dealers has spiked 17 percent nationwide as of March 15, 2020, versus last year.
However, there is some concern that the national supply may not be able to meet the growing appeal.
"That percentage is expected to increase before the end of March dramatically. Firearm retailers and manufacturers were not prepared to meet the surge or a sustained long-term demand, so firearms and ammunition will seem to be largely absent from dealer shelves for weeks to come," cautioned Eric Poole, editor of Guns and Ammo magazine. "If firearm and ammunition manufacturers throughout the U.S. are required to keep their workforce at home, this will have a more profound effect and drive up prices, to include private transfers of firearms and ammunition, which are not monitored or recorded by the NICS system."
A number of interviews conducted by Fox News in recent days with several gun store owners and sellers indicated that sales this month have, on average, spiked anywhere between 30 and 400 percent, compared with a "normal" time period. In addition to a jump in guns and ammunition sales, requests for body armor have also accelerated in some places.
For many, this week has marked the first time they have bought a firearm.
"I just got a 9mm handgun this week," John McEvoy, 34, from Idaho said. "As this situation continues to unfold, I predict that crime rates are going to increase. If food and basic necessities start to run out, I don't want to be the victim of a break-in and not be prepared to protect myself and my family."
And police departments are hardly immune to the outbreak either, further rattling panic levels and a fear of a breakdown in public order and services.
"There are over 100 million legal gun owners. Out across those horizons are people who know when they're in trouble law enforcement will come — God bless them — but that until they do, they must fend for themselves," said Frank Miniter, editor in chief of the NRA's America's 1st Freedom magazine. "This is why, during national emergencies, gun and ammunition sales go up. This is a practical thing. Self-reliance is what communities rely on. The rise in gun sales is the practical nature of Americans coming out."
In the likes of New York, where NYPD officers have been diagnosed with the illness, the trickle-down of concern has been felt in all levels of the community. The need for firearms and ammunition at Coliseum Gun Traders Ltd. in Nassau County soared to such an extent on Tuesday that store management announced they could only let small groups inside at a time.
The New York Post reported that at nearby Hunter Essentials gun store in Albertson, a sign was posted on the door Tuesday informing buyers that there were no longer any shotguns left and they were awaiting another shipment.
On the West Coast, the typically quiet Martin B. Redding in Los Angeles' Culver City was bogged down over the weekend with wait lines extending around the block. Despite the accelerating consumer needs, gun store owners too are having to be mindful not to allow their shops to overcrowd and thus potentially worsen the proliferation of the pathogen.
According to Poole, the most popular firearms to purchase among the public at present are self-defense handguns.
"Modern manufacturing processes and advanced engineering allows gun companies to reduce the proportions of a handgun to be more compact without sacrificing magazine capacity. For customers who can afford it, there is a surge in demand for compact and full-size handguns with miniature red dot sights that enable more precise shot placement and extend effective distances to as much as 25 yards, sometimes beyond," he explained. "Red dot sights have also increased participation among shooters above 40 afflicted with nearsightedness or impaired vision. Personal-defense revolvers are also enjoying a resurgence of interest and popularity."
Jeff Knox, director of the gun-rights activist group The Firearms Coalition, said that the highest requests he has seen are for ammunition.
"Buyers appear to be focused on home defense, with handguns topping their shopping lists, followed by shotguns and rifles," he noted. "Some more knowledgeable gun buyers are focusing more on rifles – primarily AR-platform – with an attitude of 'just in case.'"
Until the sudden onset of the coronavirus, officially termed COVID-19, gun sales had been flagging in the United States as a result of President Trump's support of the industry. By comparison, sales spiked under the reign of President Obama as a result of the more intense discussion concerning gun control measures.
"Prior to the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., the market was relatively stagnate due to product saturation, modest demand among existing gun owners, and a slower growth among new shooters. Anytime there is an increased awareness for personal responsibility for health and safety placed on the American public, there is a rise in gun and ammunition sales," Poole explained. "The inability of the government's ability to provide and safeguard victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is still a fresh memory that underlines people's fear that the local, state and federal governments could fail again."
Dennis Santiago, a California-based firearms instructor, and financial risk analyst, said: "The human reaction to danger and uncertainty is predictable. Fear will cause people to want to seek safety.
"Firearms are a psychological symbol of being safer in uncertain times. People will gravitate to them. They are not acquiring them to use them. They are purchasing them, hoping they won't have to."
Kris "Tanto" Paronto, a former U.S. defense contractor, Army Ranger and owner of Battleline Tactical, concurred that while he had seen a "huge sales spike in recent weeks," and a drain on companies purporting to backfill orders, he cautioned Americans against "panic buying."
"I know there is a general distrust of the government, no matter which party is in charge, since gun control is always at the forefront. Uncertainty can easily turn into panic without positive reassurance," he said. "This leads to panic in the general populace; people worry that the government will forcibly take away their rights assured by the Constitution, or they panic over the shortage of items that have become necessities in our daily lives."