While certain areas of America’s economy might struggle due to volatility associated with the pandemic, one U.S. industry can barely keep up with demand. Firearms are selling like hotcakes in 2020, and last month, Missouri firearm sales increased 29% over August 2019.
Pat McDowell, manager and owner of Ozark Thunder Indoor Range in Leadington, said like most gun dealers, he’s seen an increase in sales and range traffic since March.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in usage and purchases,” he said. “Pretty much everything from handguns, to shotguns, to rifles. The ammo shortage started about the same time the toilet paper crisis came into being.”
Ben Minkel, owner of Cedar Falls Tactical in Bonne Terre, said he’s seen sales that are 300% more than normal.
“Sales are higher than we’ve ever seen, even during the Obama administration,” he said. “Accordingly, since many gun manufacturers shut down production due to COVID-19 for weeks at a time, we’re seeing shortages in weapons and ammunition.”
Minkel said that’s had an impact on supply and price.
“I had a customer ask what kind of a deal he could get on a .223, and I had to tell him ‘those are gone,’” he said. “There might be fewer discounts, as well.”
People are paying, though, he said, noting the economic stimulus early on in the pandemic gave a lot of people the money they needed to buy.
National Shooting Sports Federation is the firearm industry trade association that’s been keeping track of sales with a particular eye to sales in the last four months. In May 2020, NSSF surveyed firearm retailers as to what they were seeing January-April 2020.
Retailers estimated that 40% of their sales were to first-time gun owners, an increase of 67% over the annual average of 24% first-time gun buyers that retailers have reported in the past. These new customers, 40% of which were women, were spending $595 on an average sale.
Personal protection was the chief driver for purchases among new gun owners, followed by target shooting and hunting. Also of note, 25% of first-time buyers had already taken some form of firearms safety course and 63% inquired about taking a firearms safety course in the near future, as reported by survey participants.
The reasons are varied as to what’s driving the increased sales, but a look at the national headlines provides strong clues: economic uncertainty, social unrest, political division. But one particular reason has everything to do with embracing outdoor sports and recreation.
“Even the hunting rifles are scarce,” said Stacy Politte of Rob’s Guns in Leadington. “Oh yeah, normally our summer months are a little slow, but these have not been slow at all. A lot of people feel the need to protect themselves due to what’s going on in the world, but even the hunting rifles are being snapped up.
“Surprisingly, we’ve also sold a lot of survival gear, knives, shovels, camping things, MREs. It’s very diverse. We’ve had a ton of new customers.”
The demand is such that even the gun parts are flying off the shelf.
“Typically we’re able to keep all the parts in to build an ArmaLite rifle, but it’s even hard getting some of the parts,” she said. “We do have most parts in, or we can get them, just maybe not have all of them at the same time. Earlier this year, we were able to keep it all in stock.”
All of the gun dealers said they have stock on hand for anyone who’s willing to buy, it just depends on what they’re wanting to buy. And, with first-time gun owners, many aren’t really sure what they’re look for in the first place.
“Something we tell people all the time if they’re new to firearms, you have to give it a try,” Politte said. “It’s like shoes— it’s better if you try them on. You have to feel it, touch it, and really get a feel for how it fits, and it’s really up to the person as to what’s best for them.”
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The business news you need
With a weekly newsletter looking back at local history.