We’re committed to keeping our readers informed.
We’ve removed our paywall from essential coronavirus news stories. Become a subscriber to support our journalists. Subscribe now.
While the debate continues to rage about how effective face masks are in stopping the transmission of the coronavirus, many Americans have turned to a national source of comfort in times of crisis — guns. Though unproved in their ability to ward off a virus spread by aerosol droplets, firearm sales skyrocketed in March, according to an analysis from BuzzFeed News based on the FBI’s monthly log of gun purchase background checks.
While accounting for seasonal trends — gun sales, like less lethal forms of retail, tend to shoot up in December — the coronavirus boom has been the largest of many spikes in the industry in the 21st century, surpassing 2 million firearm purchases in March. The increase dwarfs that following 9/11, the election of Barack Obama — though his election caused a permanent increase to the number of guns in circulation — and mass shootings like those that occurred in San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and Parkland. The coronavirus boost was also greater than that following Sandy Hook, which also caused a spike in accidental gun deaths. Ballistic body armor and tactical gear have also seen major increases in sales, while distributors note that purchases have shifted from bulk buys for police forces to small orders from individuals. The online retailer ammo.com told NPR that sales jumped 68 percent after coronavirus deaths in Italy began to surge.
While spikes in gun sales following Obama’s election and mass shootings were spurred by Americans’ anticipating gun reform — an anticipation that, on a national level, was never fully realized — the COVID-19 surge appears to be from individuals’ taking on a survivalist mentality. “I think with the way things have escalated quite quickly around the world and in the U.S. in just the last couple of weeks, it’s very hard to tell what’s going to happen next,” Kevin Lim, owner of the online store Bulletproof Zone, told BuzzFeed News.
The gun surge was expected to fall off on March 19, when the Trump administration ordered nonessential businesses closed. Though retailers were initially included among the closures, following an intense lobbying push the federal guidelines were changed a week later to allow for “workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, [and] distributors” to remain open. Gun ranges, too.