ORLANDO, Fla. — Typically, about one in 10 shoppers who buy firearms at The Armories is a first-time gun buyer. These days, it’s closer to half, said Robbie Motes, who owns the chain of Central Florida gun stores.
Motes has seen a major spike in sales — and new gun owners — since March, when the coronavirus pandemic first erupted. It’s not a local phenomenon: Americans are purchasing guns at record high numbers, with 7.8 million background checks reported nationwide from March through June.
“We had no idea this was going to happen,” Motes said. “Nobody has ever seen a pandemic like this.”
Gun sales often spike during times of political or social upheaval, which makes 2020 the perfect storm: The presidency is on the November ballot, the pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and sent U.S. jobless rates soaring, and the Minneapolis killing of George Floyd by police sparked mass protests across the country.
In Florida, nearly 184,000 background checks for gun sales and transfers took place in June, more than double the monthly total from last year and more than any other month in 2019 or 2020 so far, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
March, April, May and June all saw decade-high background check totals.
The number of background checks increased from about 88,000 in March 2019 to more than 169,000 in March 2020, the FDLE said. The numbers also jumped from about 72,000 in April 2019 to more than 120,000 this April.
A study from the Brookings Institution found that an extra 3 million firearms were sold between March to June. A large amount of the sales happened following the nationwide protests.
With the election fast approaching, it’s likely the upward trend will continue, Motes said. He said the challenge he and other firearm professionals face is ensuring first-time buyers are properly educated on handling a gun.
He said safety device sales have also increased by about 500% in recent months.
“We’ve really done our best to take time with each individual … to make sure sure it’s out of unauthorized people’s hands,” he said.
Hernan Gonzalez, 42, of St. Cloud never felt the need to purchase a firearm until now. In light of current events, he fears for the safety of his wife and children and plans to buy a gun as a means of self protection.
“It’s the pandemic, it’s the state of affairs politically, so much uncertainty, financial uncertainty with everyone,” Gonzalez said.
His said his biggest concern is someone trying to harm or steal from his family. Amid so much unrest, he wants to be prepared.
“This is something I have not considered, ever, in my 40-plus years in being on this Earth,” he said. “And that’s how bad it is, or how bad it feels.”
But as gun sales rise, the number of concealed carry permit requests are down in recent months in comparison to last year, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture.
About 18,600 permit requests were submitted in April 2019 while fewer than 11,000 were requested this April, according to the department’s numbers. May of last year saw more than 21,000 permit requests, while only about 5,300 were seen this year.
June followed a similar trend, with about 18,800 permit requests in 2019 and only about 10,300 requests in 2020. The cause for the dip is unclear.
Increased gun sales don’t always translate to a higher proportion of the population owning guns, said Gary Kleck, professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University. And there isn’t always a rational explanation as to why people buy more guns during times like these.
With the pandemic and nationwide Black Live Matters protests this summer, it’s likely tied to an overall increase in anxiety, he said.
“Life has changed,” Kleck said.
Taylor Mixon, a 30-year-old “shooting enthusiast” and firearms collector from Winter Haven, said all retailers in his area and online stores are selling out as soon as they receive stock. He said he stocked up on ammunition a few days before President Donald Trump’s impeachment hearing finished, so he’s not too worried.
“I don’t feel as lacking as many of my friends who are searching around desperately and getting price gouged,” he said.
Edwin Benton, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, said he isn’t surprised to see gun sales spiking. Historically, it happens whenever there is violence, a public assassination or spike in lawlessness.
Along with the pandemic, activists’ demands to disband or defund the police agencies may have citizens wondering how they’ll protect themselves in case of an emergency, he said.
“It’s a natural impulse,” Benton said. “It’s an instinct of people to purchase firearms or at least give serious consideration to purchasing.”
©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.