Utah gun sales spike amid coronavirus scare

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dave Larsen, store manager at Doug's Shoot'n Sports in Taylorsville, sees a run on guns and ammunition amid fears of the growth of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 in the U.S., on Monday, March 23, 2020.

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While toilet paper and bottled water may be flying off the shelves in Utah because of the coronavirus, guns are also now in high demand.

“I think there’s a little more panic buying ... right now,” says Dave Larsen, store manager of Doug’s Shoot N Sports in Taylorsville, which has seen an increase in customers of late partially attributed to the fear about the pandemic.

“When Costco empties out, the next place they're going are the gun stores,” Larsen says.

Amid increasing fears about what the viral outbreak could bring, gun sales appear to be increasing nationwide as is demand for ammunition.

Larsen says he usually sees a spike in firearm sales in March as people cash in their tax refund but this month's sales are higher than normal. An elderly woman came in Monday morning, he said, wanting a gun to protect her home.

“I think people are a little scared and they realize, you know, maybe they should have something around the house?” Larsen says. “You know, if things get really bad, it's prudent to have a fire extinguisher and it's prudent to have a gun, even if you never plan on using either one.”

While there are no national statistics on gun sales — Congress has prohibited that — there are signs that more people are stocking up.

The FBI reported 2.8 million background checks for firearms sales in February, up from just over 2 million the prior February. Gun stores are seeing longer lines from California to New York.

In North Carolina, Point Blank Range said it was selling a week’s worth of guns every day.

Our new motto is, ‘Dedicated to help you protect your toilet paper,’ ” general manager John Fields told the Charlotte Observer.

Gun sales are often higher in presidential election years and often surge after mass shootings when elected officials debate gun control measures.

The coronavirus, though, appears to be heightening concerns enough that some people are buying guns as protective measures when states and cities are ordering lockdowns, health officials are warning the pandemic could get much worse and the economy appears to be heading south.

“We have seen an unprecedented surge in first-time buyers,” says Jacob Pratt of Handgun Haven in West Valley City. Customers are looking for more ammunition, shotguns and handguns, Pratt says.

“A few have been mentioning coronavirus and/or the chain of quakes we were hit with,” Pratt said.

The Salt Lake Valley was rocked by a 5.7 magnitude earthquake on Wednesday, with dozens of aftershocks since.

There hasn’t been a spike so far in applications for concealed carry permits in Utah, officials say, but there could be a lag in reporting because individuals have 90 days after taking a class to mail in their request.

In St. George, gun sales are also up, possibly due to a statewide order in neighboring Nevada to close nonessential businesses during the coronavirus crisis.

“Everybody is coming up here looking for ammo from Las Vegas and they’re looking for guns,” says Steven Anastos, who runs Dirty Harry’s Gun Sales and deals in vintage and collectibles.

“They keep calling, asking me, ‘Hey, can I buy a gun there with an out-of-state license?’ ” Anastos says. “I say, ‘I don’t think so but, you know, call one of the other stores because I don’t deal in that kind of stuff.’”

The increase in gun purchases has prompted worries that Americans could be rushing into buying firearms and actually putting themselves in more danger.

“It does concern us because what people are doing is acting on this kind of emotional reasoning, which is ‘I think I feel safer with a gun; therefore, I am safer with a gun,’ ” says Allison Anderman, senior counsel at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “But unfortunately, it’s really the opposite that’s true.”

About 4.6 million children in the United States already live in a home where loaded guns are kept unsecured and that was before the coronavirus spooked people into buying more firearms, Anderman says. That could lead to accidental shootings or suicides.

“Right now, people are frightened of lots of things and therefore, they think a gun will make them safer,” Anderman says. “But all the available data and all the research show that the opposite is true, that if you have a gun in the home, you are much, much more likely to be shot and killed with that gun.”

Anderman adds that with most Americans now forced to stay in and children home from closed schools, guns could also make a tough situation more dangerous.

“When abusers have access to a gun, women are significantly more likely to be killed with that gun,” she said.