Local residents searched the county’s gun stores this week in vain for 9mm handgun ammunition.
Some even took to social media to ask fellow residents which stores had it in stock.
The ammunition shortage is just the tip of the iceberg in a massive national uptick of firearm sales that began shortly after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and forced people to stay home starting in March, according to gun store staff.
“It goes all the way back to the manufacturer,” said Wesley Burns, a manager at Texas City’s The Shooters Corner, 2835 Palmer Highway. “They’re just running low on certain components that go into the manufacturing of ammunition. Currently, with the high demand, there’s just been a big strain on the supply chain.”
As restaurants shift more business to takeout orders and other companies innovate to make up for lost profits because of the coronavirus pandemic, gun store owners in Galveston County and across the nation are seeing record-setting profits.
A multitude of factors — from civil unrest, to fear that the upcoming national election might mean tighter gun-control laws, to general uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — have led to a huge upsurge in first-time gun buyers and longtime aficionados searching out firearms.
Blackbeard Firearms, open for a little more than a year at 1314 FM 646 in Dickinson, has seen its sales increase by about 60 percent since the pandemic began, owner Trevor Perren said.
Smaller handguns, such as the Sig Sauer P365, and rifles have been among the most popular, Perren said.
Just about every month since the pandemic began has set sales records at The Shooters Corner, Burns said.
Nationally, the FBI conducted more than 3.6 million firearms background checks in July, compared with just 2.3 million the same month a year ago, according to data provided by National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
That was the third-highest month since record-keeping began in 1998.
“It’s different types of customers,” Perren said. “You’ve got some returning customers that just want to make sure they have the most current items, and then you’ve also got brand-new customers that have decided they want to be able to protect themselves.”
A PERFECT STORM
Although background checks aren’t directly synonymous with gun purchases, they do give a fairly good indication of sales, said Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, who has conducted research into conditions that lead to an uptick in firearm sales.
Between the uncertainty spurred by the coronavirus pandemic, the protests over racial injustice and the upcoming presidential election, gun store owners have an essentially perfect storm for record gun sales, Levine said.
“Guns provide security for people,” he said. “When people feel uncertain about events, they like to buy guns. And there’s a lot of that going on right now.”
Protests have sprung up across the country after the death of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis while handcuffed and restrained by four police officers, including one who pushed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody has sparked global protests against police killings. A Black man, Floyd pleaded for air while offering little resistance to his arrest May 25.
And former Vice President Joe Biden will face off against President Donald Trump in November in an election that has spurred increased political polarization and vitriol.
Because the pandemic shows no signs of ending anytime soon and the election still is several months away, those record-breaking gun sale numbers could continue at least for the rest of the year, Levine said. That could especially be true if Biden were to win the election.
“Fear of gun-control legislation is a strong motivation for gun purchases,” he said.
Historically, major events such as the Y2K scare and some of the school shootings have led to upticks in gun sales, Levine said.
The notion of Y2K — propagated mostly by people selling everything from expert opinion to survival food — was that because of a design flaw in computers, modern civilization would end when computer clocks passed 11:59:59 p.m. Dec. 31, 1999, and found they had no place to go except back to 1900. Flood gates would open. Banks would fail. Airplanes would fall from the sky and food would evaporate from store shelves.
Levine predicts gun sales could exceed the yearly record by the end of September, he said.
Last year saw the highest number of background checks, with some 28 million, Levine said. This year the country might see as many as 40 million.