Coronavirus, Riots, Biden, and Gun Control: Why Gun Ownership is Exploding in 2020

June set a consecutive monthly sales record for new firearms sold to Americans, beating the records set in May and April: The FBI processed a whopping 3,931,607 NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) checks, which is 1.6 million more – almost double – last June’s monthly figure. Removing checks for other purposes than gun sales, that leaves around 2.4 million guns sold nationwide. The reported figure is likely even lower than June’s actual sales since many states’ concealed-carry permit holders may skip a NICS check in lieu of their permit status to obtain a new gun through local dealers. Sales also spiked in May and April with an estimated 1,726,053 and 1,797,910 guns sold in those months, respectively. Each month’s sales represent an increase in 80% and 71% over last year’s sales. Total sales for 2020 mark a 137% increase over 2019. It is reported that over 2 million of those sales represent first purchases for new gun owners.

So, why is gun ownership skyrocketing? A perfect storm, born in Early march with the Coronavirus’s arrival, came to a head with national protests and riots sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the realization that incumbent President Trump may lose the election to one very anti-gun Joe Biden, and so many states’ latest attempts to pass draconian gun control measures.

Pandemic Panic

As the Coronavirus pandemic took root across the country in early March, panic erupted. Facing a largely unknown threat, the nation went into lockdown. Unemployment skyrocketed in a matter of weeks. Grocery stores’ shelves were emptied of so many rolls of toilet paper and canned goods, eCommerce retailers price gouged home goods and necessities, and hand sanitizer became a hot commodity on eBay. As states shuttered their economies and forced brick-and-mortar stores to lock up, Americans began to prep in proper fashion. The cliché of stashing MREs, jugs of water, and ammunition in one’s basement is no longer such. Now, it is seen by most as due diligence in anticipating what could be a potentially long-term disaster rife with shortages of food and resources.
With this new national hoarding came literal lines that stretched around city blocks outside gun stores across the country. The piecemeal court battles in left-leaning states over which businesses were considered “essential” or “non-essential” – and thus, which could remain open to the public – exacerbated the fervor. Just days ago, a federal judge shot down a lawsuit levied against New York Governor Cuomo’s decision to not include gun stores on his state’s list of essential businesses.

“It’s unbelievable,” says Dan Yeager, who runs Mountain Man Guns in Cambridge. “Kind of like the toilet paper thing. Buy it all.” As he walks among the empty shelves in his store, he affirms the fear that Americans had: “Oh, yeah, it’s far worse than what people realize. The supply chain is completely empty,” He remarks, referring to firearm manufacturers and suppliers. Yeager says he now spends seven days a week at his shop to play catch-up with pending orders and offering what few guns remain to endless buyers.

Rise of the Ghost Gun (and New Gun Control)

With gun stores like Yeager’s running dry, one federal case affirming Governors’ rights to force businesses – including gun stores – to close, and talks of yet more shutdowns looming as Coronavirus surges, gun owners veteran and new are turning to a niche market to get their hands on hardware: 80% firearm build kits. Dubiously coined “ghost guns” by some outlets and officially called “receiver blanks” by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE), these kits provide the parts and tools one needs to build a gun at home. Yet since these kits – most commonly called 80% lowers by those in the know – are not considered firearms because they’re not functional, they don’t require a NICS check. They don’t get hung up in the conventional firearm supply chains which are rife with government bureaucracy, paperwork, and restrictions that squeeze the supply’s pipeline. These gun-making kits have afforded new avenues to gun ownership for hundreds of thousands of Americans in 2020 because they don’t require the buyer to deal with transferring their not-a-firearm through an FFL or gun dealer.

These 80% firearms can instead be shipped directly to the buyer’s home address. The gun owner-to-be needs to fabricate his or her 80% receiver or frame to make it a firearm by federal legal definitions, but no serial number or ATF paperwork is required under federal law. This is a practice long held to be legal under the Gun Control Act, and the ATF has maintained a friendly attitude toward these types of firearms since they hit the market some years ago. Yet as the outlets that make and sell these kits see record sales, local and state governments with anti-gun agendas have taken notice. The city of D.C. recently sued the brand Polymer80, a maker notable for its 80% frames which provide an “un-serialized” alternative to buying a GLOCK® handgun. Part of this negative attention is spurred by claims among some politicians that these kits are primarily used by criminals (which isn’t true) while others infer the negative attention 80% firearms receive is, at least in part, because the AR-15 is the weapon most commonly built using such kits. New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a cease-and-desist order to all 80% lower providers, demanding they stop selling their products to New York residents.

New and Potential Gun Control is Spurring Sales, Too

Virginia needs few introductions. This state, once a Second Amendment stronghold yet now uprooted with a left-leaning governing body, has become a battleground for gun rights in the face of new gun control. Just recently, the VA legislature passed a law limiting handgun sales to one per month, per resident. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, emboldened by his liberal legislators, signed several pieces of gun control legislation in April which went into effect July 1st. The bills established Red Flag laws, increased penalties for leaving guns accessible to others in one’s household, and banned gun ownership for individuals subject to protective orders. Northam also indicated he would try again to pass a statewide assault weapons ban hot on the heels of a failed first attempt earlier this year. Northam’s lobbying for such a ban sparked widespread armed yet peaceful protests at the state’s capitol which gained national attention. In Arizona, a proposed assault weapons ban has boosted gun sales. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi renewed calls for more gun control measures, and as Biden’s chances of clinching the election appear ever more likely, emboldened Democratic lawmakers are considering “going nuclear” to pass as much progressive and anti-gun legislation as possible in 2021.

Biden’s Apocalyptic Gun Control Proposals

Apocalyptic is perhaps the best way to describe Joe Biden’s gun control measures. His initiatives would restrict Second Amendment rights greater than any president before him:
  • Allow gun makers to be sued for individuals’ use of firearms
  • Reinstate a national assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban
  • Force existing gun owners who own “assault weapons” to register them
  • Force a national gun buyback program for those who refuse to register
  • Place restrictions on the number of firearms anyone can buy to one per month
  • Institute far-reaching Red Flag and firearm confiscation laws without due process
  • End the online sale of all firearms and ammunition
  • Incentivize states to enact red flag laws
  • Allow states to set up “gun licensing” programs
The list goes on, but the point is made. Simply put, Biden’s gun control plan provides one of the greatest indicators – perhaps beyond the motivators of the pandemic, national riots, and state-level legislation – for why existing and new gun owners are stocking up before the election. Although Trump has largely dismissed public polling that currently places Biden well ahead of his reelection odds, even private polling developed by his campaign and presidential betting odds (one of the most impartial and accurate indicators of a candidate’s chances) place Trump decidedly behind Biden.

That bodes poorly for the Second Amendment’s prospects after November 3rd.

“Defund the Police” is Also Funding Sales

When George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police earlier this year, it sparked a national protest movement that, for several weeks, perhaps rivaled the size and scope of the civil rights movement. Yet as examples of police brutality continued to air on social media and various publications, largely peaceful protests became violent. Looters and rioters laid siege to Main Street across America, often targeting small businesses, homes, and passersby without discretion. This civil unrest and widespread violence are also credited with boosting gun sales. In states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Minnesota, New York, Georgia, North Carolina, and California, each of which has now played host to widespread rioting and violence, first-time gun owners are being minted at a higher rate than ever before. The fervor in this context is likely well-suited, too: The same legislators and advocates decrying the police and calling for their de-funding are the same talking heads who want to pass additional gun control. Great Britain, which banned firearms and maintains a police force that is largely unarmed, is a failed experiment in this very advocacy and model for public safety.

The Future of 2A Holds Many Unknowns

Endless unknowns and confounding factors plague America in 2020. Nobody knows what the next six months will seem like. The election odds have swung wildly, Coronavirus has politicized the nation more than any politician in recent decades, and civil unrest has reached an all-time high.

One thing is for certain: Gun ownership is skyrocketing in 2020, and it’s likely to set up yet another heated discussion about one of the Constitution’s most important amendments.