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After early slump under Trump, gun sales shoot up with COVID-19, riots

Few people were happier to have Barack Obama as president than America’s gun makers and sellers.

Obama’s advocacy of stricter gun control, often trailing lectures on firearm-related violence, particularly mass shootings, helped drive sales to record levels. Seven months before Obama left office the Washington Examiner reported, “Domestically, manufacturers have reported producing about 21,000 guns a day, or more than 46 million in Obama’s first six years in office.” More than 23 million guns were sold in 2015 alone, which was an annual record. The gun-buying frenzy was so intense under Obama that 14 months after Donald Trump became president, and once firearms owners realized no gun-grab was coming, Remington, America’s oldest gun manufacturer, filed for bankruptcy.

But because of extended COVID-19 lockdowns, coupled now with violent unrest amid protests over the death of George Floyd, the black Minneapolis man who died in police custody last week, gun sales are rebounding fiercely.

The Washington Times on Monday quoted research by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a private research company, that indicated Americans bought an estimated 1.7 million guns in May — an increase of 80 percent over May 2019. Further, the FBI reported conducting three-million instant background checks for potential gun buyers last month, another record for May. 

Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Times that perhaps 40 percent of sales were made by first-time gun purchasers, who were interested in acquiring smaller-caliber pistols for self-defense. An NPR report supported that, noting that Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting documented a 2-1 ratio of sales between pistols and “long guns,” or rifles and shotguns, the highest ever recorded by the firm. 

Larry Hyatt, a gun store owner in Charlotte, told the Times that because of COVID-19 — which spread fear for physical safety and crushed the once-booming economy — his sales were brisk before the riots over Floyd’s death broke out. Many governors opted to declare gun stores “essential businesses” during the pandemic.

But now gun sellers are profiting off the confluence of those forces. “There’s economic worry, there’s crime worry, and then you got the worry of the coronavirus — it’s [a] triple whammy,” Hyatt told the Times.

None of this should be all that surprising.

Anticipated economic scarcity driven by the coronavirus closings made people jittery over their safety and property. Meanwhile, the widespread rioting that has overwhelmed local authorities, who in many cities have been directed to stand down, illustrates that individual Americans are their own best guardians against the chaos and violence. 

Unless or until local politicians can demonstrate they can control the mobs, gun sales should continue to soar. 

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