‘I had an old lady that wanted me to strap a holster to her walker;’ Local gun owners says fear driving record-breaking sales

Andy Palmer, owner of Palmer Firearms, rearranges some guns in his store. STAFF/BONNIE MEIBERS
Caption
Andy Palmer, owner of Palmer Firearms, rearranges some guns in his store. STAFF/BONNIE MEIBERS

Dayton-area residents are buying firearms at a much higher rate than in years past and sellers say it is fear-driven.

Bill Jarrett, who owns Vandalia Tactical gun store, said he’s seen a huge increase in sales since March — a 381% increase in sales compared to last year.

Americans have purchased almost 17 million guns so far in 2020, more than in any other single full year on record, according to Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting, a research company that tracks firearms sales.

“People are hoarding ammo like they were hoarding toilet paper,” said Steve West, who works at Palmer Firearms in Beavercreek. “It’s pretty weird. It’s something I haven’t seen before."

Palmer Firearms has seen their sales triple from last year, West said. Sales picked up when the pandemic started and picked up even more after civil unrest started around the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day weekend.

“I had an old lady that wanted me to strap a holster to her walker,” West said.

ExploreOhio gun sales skyrocket during coronavirus pandemic

Firearm purchases have climbed every month since March. Nationally more than 1.7 million background checks were conducted in October alone, a roughly 60% jump over the same period in 2019, according to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

In Ohio, there were 85,170 background checks done in October. Last October in Ohio there were about 50,000 background checks. The total number of background checks conducted from 2019 to now has increased by 25%, according to the data from the FBI.

Not all background checks lead to sales, but they are an indication of firearm sales.

In March, at the beginning of the pandemic, the FBI’s background check system recorded 114,086 background checks from Ohio, which was the second highest statewide tally since 1998. Only December 2015 had a higher number of background checks originating out of Ohio at 119,900. That followed a terrorist attack in Paris and a deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, which led to increased calls for new gun-control measures.

In previous election years, sales spikes were believed to be driven almost entirely by gun owners worried that a Democratic president might impose new restrictions on firearms. That fear is present this year, but sales mostly appear to be driven by fears of societal instability, gun shop owners say.

Local residents are worried about personal safety and protecting their homes at an uncertain and volatile time, and many are worried about personal liberty and government restrictions, gun sellers say.

“It’s not just Republicans buying guns,” he said. “Everyone is buying guns. People are buying extra guns, stocking up on ammo.”

Jarrett said he has had more Black customers this year than ever in the past. In Beavercreek, West said the store has a completely new customer base on top of the normal customers they get. West said he’s seen a lot of first time gun owners come into the store. Nearly everyone who comes into the store leaves with something, he said.

“There’s a big fear factor with the COVID,” Jarrett said.

In Dayton, gun store owners said the most popular items are handguns and 9mm ammo. People are looking for something to defend themselves with, West said.

“People thought they were safe in places like Beavercreek and Oakwood, but the rioting made them think maybe they’re not,” West said.

The holiday season is expected to lift gun sales even more. November and December are traditionally among the busiest months of the year for selling firearms, according to FBI background check data.

West said he sees the high rate of sales continuing into next year and maybe longer.

“People are scared,” he said.