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First-Time Owners, Self Defense Help Bump NC Gun Sales During Pandemic

Semi-Automatic handguns are displayed at Duke's Sport Shop, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in New Castle, Pa.
Keith Srakocic

The coronavirus pandemic has driven up gun sales across the nation, including in North Carolina. While there's no way to track the types of guns sold, gun store owners in Wake County are saying most of the increased demand is from first-time gun owners, and those buying firearms for self defense."Mostly I think it's just an awareness thing right now with everything going on," said Matt Reeves, sales manager of Fuquay Gun in Fuquay-Varina. "People are feeling a little uncomfortable, so I think that spurred people on."

Across the United States, firearm background checks surged in March. The FBI reportedmore than 3.7 million background checks in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NCIS) in March. That's nearly 1 million more than were performed in March of 2019, an increase of 42%. In North Carolina, there were 29,000 more background checks in March of 2020, an increase of 54%, which ranked the state 26 in the nation in percentage terms.

Kentucky runs monthly background checks on all gun owners, not just those who look to buy a firearm, so its data compares differently than other states. Gun retailers were deemed essential businesses by the Trump Administration, so they've been operating largely as normal, though some are offering curbside-only service or requiring distancing measures between customers.

While the Department of Homeland Security has deemed gun stores essential, its designation is only an advisory. Some local politicians have tried to deem gun stores as non-essential, though threats of lawsuits have largely defeated those efforts. Stores in Wake, Durham and Orange are operating with social distancing measures in place.

People are feeling a little uncomfortable, so I think that spurred people on. -Matt Reeves

While there has still been some interest in recreational purchases, Reeves said the biggest uptick is in self-defense firearms.

"A lot of sales we've been doing right now is anything like home defense shotguns. A lot of the shorter shot guns. We have sold quite a few handguns and a couple rifles," he said. "Most of the people I'm seeing buying guns right now, from what I've seen, are first-time gun owners."

Some experts have expressed concerns that the pandemic could increase violence. While it's too soon to draw broad conclusions, preliminary data for Raleigh shows one small trend. Rates of aggravated assault, homicide and rape were similar when comparing March of 2020 to March of 2019. However, burglary and robbery crimes were slightly changed. Both charges include theft, and the main difference between these crimes is that with robbery, a victim is also present. A burglary, for instance, would be a home break-in when the residents are not home.

Commercial burglary was up, while residential burglary was down, possibly because more people are home and not at their places of business. Conversely, robberies from business were down, while robbery from persons were up – again, possibly for a similar reason.

From Raleigh Police Department, here are the March 2019 vs. March 2020 stats for Part I crimes:

March of:                                        2019      2020

  • Aggravated assault                         64           67
  • Homicide                                           2             1
  • Rape                                                   17           16
  • Arson                                                  2             5
  • Commercial Burglary                     24           27
  • Residential Burglary                       88           64
  • Robbery from Business                  10           3
  • Robbery from Person                     32           42
Jason deBruyn is WUNC's Supervising Editor for Digital News, a position he took in 2024. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016 as a reporter.
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