With three months to go in the year, federal background checks for gun purchases have already hit an annual record, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with the gun industry reporting that the sales surge has depleted inventory of popular firearms and resulted in shortages of ammo.
The FBI on Friday reported 2.89 million background checks for September, bringing this year’s nine-month tally to 28.82 million, surpassing the prior annual record of 28.36 million in 2019. September was the weakest month since the Covid-19 pandemic started shutting down major cities in March, flattening the economy and infecting millions, including President Trump, who has been hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center over the weekend.
But last month was still the strongest September for background checks since the FBI started conducting them more than 20 years ago.
“This has been a year unlike any other, where law-abiding Americans are seeing for themselves the need to be able to protect themselves and their family,” said Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry group.
The biggest month was July, with 3.93 million background checks, a record since the FBI started conducting the checks in 1998. During the pandemic, gun makers Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger have reported significant increases in sales.
The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, also known as NICS, is not the same thing as gun sales, but it is the closest nationwide proxy. FBI background checks are conducted by federally licensed gun dealers, which includes all gun stores, every time someone tries to buy a gun.
Gun retailers and industry analysts have attributed the pandemic increase to new buyers seeking guns for self-protection. This is being fueled by a climate of economic instability, with tens of millions of jobs lost and a dramatic slump in gross domestic product. They also attribute the strong gun sales to fears of rising crime and images of civil unrest and police brutality dominating the media.
When asked about the dip in September background checks compared to earlier in the pandemic, Oliva said it’s “plausible that this number could actually have been higher, but inventory is low due to the sustained high demand.”
That’s also the view of Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C. He said an influx of urban customers, including women and senior citizens, have been buying up his stock of compact polymer semiautomatic handguns and other guns designed for self defense.
“One reason September dropped off is that the supply of guns is not available,” said Hyatt. “The Smith & Wessons are sold out, the Springfields are sold out, the Rugers are sold out. All that’s left are the real expensive exotic guns, the rare guns.”
Gun sales are also fueled by hunters. States where hunting is a big deal, including Texas, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, have been issuing more hunting licenses, reporting double-digit increases from last year. This is part of a back-to-the-country trend that has swept America since the springtime rise of Covid-19. Job losses have resulted in more free time, and social distancing has pushed more people out into the woods.
Another factor is the specter of increased gun control from the Democratic contenders for the White House, former Vice President Joseph Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), which has particularly boosted sales of tactical-style semiautomatic rifles including AR-15s. The popular guns have been used in notorious mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, the Las Vegas Harvest music festival in 2017, and a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, to name a few.
The Biden-Harris gun control proposal would fold these guns, commonly known as assault weapons though the industry prefers to call them modern sporting rifles, into the purvey of the National Firearms Act. That would add a $200 tax to the purchase of the gun and increase the background check wait time from minutes to months.
The Democratic candidates would also implement a nationwide buyback for owners of AR-15s, a proposal has been driving sales for the military-style rifles.
Gun control advocates are dismayed to see guns selling out in such a politically charged atmosphere.
“It’s deeply alarming that our background check system is being overwhelmed at the same time President Trump is telling right-wing extremists to ‘stand back and stand by,’” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control organization, referring to Trump’s statement about the Proud Boys white supremacist group during last week’s debate with Biden. “Trump’s reckless rhetoric has a long history of inspiring hate groups, and by failing to fix our nation’s background check system, he may now be helping those same groups get armed.”
It’s not just the guns that are selling fast, but the bullets that feed them, resulting in shortages, for buyers and sellers alike, since the early days of the pandemic.
“Even more important to the buyers, is that ammunition is selling out,” said Hyatt, noting that popular calibers of ammunition, including 9 mm, .380, .45 and .38, are increasingly hard to come by.
Bullets have been flying off the shelves nationwide, boosting sales for ammunition makers like Vista Outdoor, which recently paid $81.4 million for the ammo assets of bankrupt Remington, and the industrial chemical company Olin, which owns the Winchester brand.
Vista Outdoor is already the lead manufacturer of ammunition, with over 30% market share, according to Rommel Dionisio, gun industry analyst for Aegis Capital. “Boosting ammunition production capacity through this acquisition is certainly timely,” he wrote in an investor’s note.
But for now, buyers and sellers alike are dealing with bullet shortages.
“People are driving an hour to get one box of ammo,” said Hyatt, who like other retailers has been rationing bullets to one box per purchase. “But we couldn’t ration the guns.”
Source: Forbes – Business