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Cities close ‘nonessential’ gun shops despite increased new weapons purchases during coronavirus pandemic

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GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Gun sales are on the rise, and so are restrictions on gun sales and store operations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Gun retailers and safety advocates believe that store closures will push scared consumers to private sellers.
  • This can lead to lack of gun safety and handling training.

Despite an uptick in demand at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, some cities are pushing gun stores to close, claiming that they are not essential businesses and must follow stay-at-home orders currently in place. Cities like New Orleans are seeking emergency bans on gun sales.

Other cities, such as Raleigh, N.C., are suspending background checks for concealed carry permit applications, slowing business for firearm stores.

With gun laws and regulations seemingly in flux as the U.S. responds to the coronavirus outbreak, AP reports that many gun rights activists are worried about their Second Amendment rights.

Speaking to reporters, Michael Cargill, who owns Central Texas Gun Works in Austin, Texas, said that “When there’s a national emergency, people are looking for food, water, shelter — that part is important to the survival of our nation. They are also looking for the Second Amendment to protect their families.” 

In Austin, a stay-at-home order had effectively closed gun shops, according to the Fort Worth-Star Telegram.

Along with firearm sales, background checks spiked by 300 percent on March 16 when compared to the same date a year ago, according to AP and data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). 

Due to this staggering jump, the federal background check system has been “overwhelmed” and has a recorded backlog of 80,000 background checks, according to Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the NSSF. 

Per federal law, if a background check for gun ownership takes longer than three business days, gun retailers may sell the firearm to the pending customer unless the state has laws which prevent the transaction. In an article published online, the NSSF advises waiting for the background check to return prior to executing a pending gun sale.

“Because of the dramatic increase in volume, it is important to recognize that FBI staff may not be able to begin their research on delayed transactions as they normally would. It’s up to the FFL’s [Federal Firearm License] discretion, but they may want to consider waiting on a definitive response from the NICS before opting to proceed with a sale on any delayed transaction.”

Other advocates say that despite the backlog, keeping legal gun retailers open during mass quarantine efforts will prevent people from purchasing weapons from unauthorized, illegal retailers. These firearms are often unregistered, making it difficult to trace the weapon to a potential crime. 

David Chipman, a senior policy adviser for Giffords, a gun control advocacy group, acknowledges the pros and cons to keeping gun stores open. 

“If you keep it open, there’s the risk of first-time buyers who are largely buying out of fear and panic and untrained,” Chipman said to AP. This would also mean that educated retailers won’t be able to train new owners on how to handle firearms. 

David Prince operates Eagle Gun Range in Farmers Branch, Texas. Under stay-at-home laws, he had to temporarily shut down his store, until Wednesday, when guns stores in his district were reclassified as essential businesses. 

The range in his store, where people can practice handling their firearm, is closed as a nonessential business. 

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