Northern Nevada gun sales surge amid pandemic, protests, looming election
RENO, Nev. — Sharon Oren can’t talk right now.
“I have about 20 people standing in front of me,” Oren says. “Can you call back later?”
It’s a Friday afternoon in late September, and Oren, owner of Maccabee Arms, is dealing with an overflow of foot traffic at his gun shop on Kietzke Lane in Reno.
Truth is, no matter the day of week or time of day, Oren’s business has been slammed with gun owners stocking up — and an influx of people buying guns for the first time.
“Floor traffic is crazy,” Oren, who’s owned Maccabee Arms for a decade, said in a follow-up call with the NNBW. “These past six months have probably been the busiest we’ve had since opening the shop. We’re probably up (in sales) 500-600%, easy.”
Oren is not alone. Truth is, as American anxieties rise over COVID-19, civil unrest and an increasingly prickly presidential race, firearm and ammunition sales have skyrocketed in Northern Nevada and beyond.
As a result, the Gun Rush of 2020 has triggered a 95% surge in gun sales and a 139% increase in ammunition sales, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a firearms trade association.
“The math is very simple,” Oren said. “Because of the pandemic, people weren’t sure if we were going to shut down (gun) stores; there are low supplies; burglaries are on the rise; you had the riots; and it’s an election year.”
BACKGROUND CHECKS CLIMB
The FBI’s National Instant Crime Background Check System (NICS) shows the number of background checks for firearm sales in the U.S. topped 3 million each in March, May, June, July and August of this year.
Since 1998, when NICS launched, the only other time background checks topped 3 million in one month happened in December 2015.
Last year, 2019, saw a record 28.4 million background checks conducted in the U.S. So far this year, there have already been 25.9 million checks through August, according to the most recent NICS data as of Oct. 1, with four months left to tally.
The growing interest in guns can also be seen in the increase in Nevada background checks over the past year. In 2019, there were 102,096 checks in the state, according to Nevada Department of Public Safety records obtained by the NNBW.
As of Sept. 27, with about three months left in the year, the number of checks in Nevada had already swelled to 140,143.
The spike in firearm purchases began in March, when the pandemic led to panic buying, quickly causing shortages of supplies — from toilet paper and flour to guns and ammo.
Due to COVID shutdowns and social distancing mandates inside factories, manufacturers aren’t able to pump out as many firearms and bullets as they used to.
“There’s a huge shortage,” said Oren, noting that at one point his inventory plummeted from roughly 700 guns to 30. “Manufacturing is at about 10% and demand is up 5,000%. No one saw this (pandemic) coming, and that’s why you have such a big problem with supply.”
FEAR FACTORS … AND FIRST-TIMERS
Debbie Block, owner of Reno Guns and Range, said demand shows no signs of slowing, especially as the national debate around police reform rages on.
“People are afraid,” said Block, who expects sales to continue surging for at least a year. “There’s a call for defunding the police. And yet that doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to have issues that they have to protect themselves against. There is a fear of more violence around the elections, and I think we’ll see a spike again as it comes closer.”
“Everyone thinks the election is going to cause either riots or socialism, and people are going to go after their guns,” he said.
Oren and Block also pointed to the fact many of their customers are first-time gun buyers, which has become a nationwide industry trend. All told, the NSSF estimates nearly 5 million new gun owners have joined the 100 million-plus gun owners in the U.S. so far this year.
“I would say 95% of our buyers in the past six months are first-time buyers,” Oren said.
Block added that Reno Guns and Range is seeing a lot of first-time buyers from California come into her shop on Market Street due to the limited supply of inventory available over the hill.
She added: “Their selection is so limited, I’ve heard it’s virtually impossible to get a firearm in California.”
With more new gun buyers than ever, RGR is also seeing a booming demand for training classes, said Block, who advocates for new owners to get enough training.
“We’ve added three additional classes a week that are constantly filled — we’re booked out for six weeks at least,” she said. “Our intro handgun class and our concealed carry (weapons) permit class are very popular.”
To that end, Oren said new owners shouldn’t just simply purchase a firearm.
“Whoever buys a gun,” he said, “be responsible — get trained.”
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