ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — Growing concerns over the Coronavirus outbreak has caused a surge in Baldwin County sales of weapons and ammunition, according to local gun shop owners.
Nelson Wingo, owner of Campbell Hardware & Sporting Goods, said gun sales at his shop in Robertsdale surged 30 to 40 percent since Wednesday, March 18.
“We’ve had an increase across the board, but particularly with defense-type weapons,” he said. “Things have started to slow down over the last day or so, particularly with ammunition because we’ve started running out and can’t get more.”
Wingo said most customers are looking for small handguns. He’s also seen a jump in sales of turkey guns, both 20- and 12-guage shotguns that come typically with short barrels.
Richard “Rick” Lowell, owner, of Rick’s Gun and Pawn, said he has also seen a jump in the last week or so in sales of small handguns and shotguns at both his locations in Foley and Loxley.
“The fear is that sooner or later grocery stores are going to run out of essential items and people are going to need weapons for home defense,” Lowell said, “but right now it’s looking to me like stores are re-stocking.”
While he’s had a jump in people asking about guns, Lowell said, his biggest jump has been in ammunition sales, to the point where they’ve started to run out.
“We’ve ordered more, but our suppliers are running low, too,” he said. “It’s similar to what happened after Sandy Hook.”
Tom Hand, owner of Gold Mine Pawn Shop in Daphne, said he also sees a similarity with the surge in gun sales after the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, the difference being that now, the increase has been across the board.
“After Sandy Hook, more people were looking for AR-15s because they were afraid it would be outlawed,” Hand said, “but today we’re seeing an increase in sales across the board from the basic handgun, to the conceal-carry guns, to shotguns, which have done really good as well.”
Hand believes the surge has been for numerous reasons.
“We typically see three types of people who buy guns,” he said. “First, there’s the person who has wanted to own a gun, but just never got around to it until something pushed them over the edge to get one. Then, there’s the person who has a gun collection and is looking to add to their collection. Finally, there’s the person, for whatever reason, decides to purchase a gun for their own protection. We’ve seen all of those.”
Both Lowell and Hand expressed concerns that there could be a big increase in the number of first-time gun owners who have no experience using the weapons.
“My biggest fear is that we have people coming in to buy guns who have never owned a gun and don’t have any way to get training,” Lowell said. “If they’re not properly trained, they’re going to wind up hurting themselves. My best advice to them is as soon as they get home, read their owner’s manual from cover to cover and make sure they know how to use the gun before they have to use it.”
Hand said his shop has an indoor training facility on-site and he encourages everyone who purchases a weapon to get as much training as possible.
“What I like to tell people is that one day you could be called on to defend my grandchild in a movie theater,” he said, “and I want to make sure you are going to be able to do that successfully.”
Whatever the weapon or their experience level, anyone who purchases a gun during this time needs to be aware that it should be for home protection only.
Barbie Day, supervisor with the Civil Division of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the issuance of gun permits, said the Department is currently not issuing new gun permits.
“Right now, the issuance of a new permit requires the gun owner to present in person with a photo I.D.,” she said. “Since our office is currently closed, we are currently unable to issue new permits. We are trying to come up with a solution to be able to issue new permits, but we are still trying to work out the details.”
The Sheriff’s Department is continuing to issue permit renewals by mail, but the number of permit renewals has dropped since the permit office has been closed.
“Normally, we issue about 300 permits per week,” she said. “In the last week we have issued about 50 permits.”
Wingo said the public can still legally purchase a gun without a permit if that gun is considered to be for home defense, which means the gun is not allowed to leave a person’s home.
“If someone were to take that gun and put it in their car, or take it to the grocery store, then they would need to have a permit,” he said.
All gun sales require the purchaser to fill out a 4473 Firearms Transaction Record with the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in the U.S. Department of Justice, and they have been so overwhelmed that sometimes it is taking up to three to five days to receive clearance, Wingo said.
“Most of the time, if we can file early in the morning, we can get it back the next day,” he said. “Otherwise it’s taking some time to get the clearance.”
Hand said he’s not only seen a jump in the purchase of guns, but also precious metals, particularly silver.
“This has been the best month I’ve ever seen in my 36 years for any kind of precious metal, that’s gold, silver, lead, copper and aluminum, including guns, ammunition and bullion,” he said. “I think it’s more of a comfort thing than anything else. It’s not that people are panicking, but people are buying these things to keep from panicking.
“I look at this the same way people are buying toilet paper. It’s just something that they have to have to bring comfort during a bad situation. As long as they can find it, they feel assured that everything is going to be OK.”