DENVER–Colorado is experiencing a rush to buy guns and ammunition created by concerns over COVID-19 lockdowns and ongoing civil disorder nationwide.
Since January, monthly gun sales in Colorado have been steadily increasing from more than 39,000 to more than 52,000 in August. A very large jump in March more than doubled sales to over 82,000. Sales have since dropped, but demand remains high, averaging more than 56,000 sales per month from April through August, according to Jurgen Brauer, Ph.D. and Chief Economist at Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting.
Nationally, the number of background checks submitted by dealers to the FBI’s National Instant Check System (NICS) has reached record levels, exceeding 26 million through August of this year.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation says in an August 24 press release, “58 percent of firearm purchases were among African American men and women, the largest increase of any demographic group. Women comprised 40 percent of first-time gun purchasers.”
The increase in gun sales is causing serious issues with Colorado’s InstaCheck background check system operated by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Background checks that used to take an average of about 8 minutes are now taking up to 56 hours to complete. CBI is the point of contact for NICS transactions, but the state also does a more complicated background check than the NICS system alone, which takes more time.
The inordinate delays resulted in a September 4th request by Lauren Larson, Director of the Office of State Planning & Budgeting for a $1.26 million supplementary budget increase for fiscal year 2020-21. The funds would come from the CBI’s cash fund and would not require an increase in application fees. CBI proposes to add 15 full-time employees to ease the workload.
On top of the delay in purchasing a gun, buyers were finding that inventory at dealers was depleted during the height of the rush. While shortages of primarily handguns still exist, the supply chain appears to be catching up to demand in the last month or so, and shelves are much better stocked than in recent months.
Ammunition is another matter. The National Rifle Association (NRA) tweeted on September 21, “Ammo Sales SURGE 139%.”
A trip to any gun store, large or small, confirms a shortage of ammunition. In particular, popular handgun calibers like 9mm and .45ACP are almost impossible to find and many retailers place limits on how much any one customer can buy at a time.
Rise of the first-time gun owner
The burgeoning number of first-time gun buyers raises concerns about their training and how gun safety may be compromised by those who do not receive some sort of training when they buy their first gun.
But according to trainers interviewed by Complete Colorado, new gun buyers seem to be taking their responsibilities seriously, in spite of the ammunition shortage.
“Most of them, at least that I’ve talked to, are very serious about wanting to get trained and wanting to know what they are doing,” said Dave, 69, an NRA-certified handgun instructor who lives in Larimer County. “Of course, there are always those people that think they know everything right off, or they can read it and still be fine. I don’t see too many of them, probably because they’re not going to look for help if they don’t think they need it.”
Dave says he has trained 135 people since January and currently has another 16 on a waiting list.
Issac Chase, 39 and his partner Edgar Antillon, who operate a training school called Guns for Everyone, also say demand for training is up substantially.
“We’re definitely seeing a lot more first-time gun owners than usual,” Chase told Complete Colorado. “The demand for training has fluctuated quite a bit. Since March, it’s been pretty interesting.”
Guns for Everyone is unique in that it does not charge for basic concealed handgun permit classes.
“We started as a pro-Second Amendment group that was looking to be a little counterculture to try to appeal to the type of people you wouldn’t normally find at an NRA meeting,” said Chase. “We decided to promote concealed carry classes to college students for free, as a form of protest.”
In a time-honored practice of campus activism, Chase and Antillon took their protest to the streets.
“We organized a couple of protests at the Capitol building in 2013. We organized a civil disobedience rally for the magazine ban on July 1st, 2013. But we were not getting a good response from that. So, we decided to expand the concealed carry classes for free to everyone across the state and use that as our form of activism for the Second Amendment in Colorado. And we’ve been doing that ever since,” Chase continued.
Chase says concerns over first-time gun owner proficiency are valid.
“I think for a lot of them, they’re kind of overwhelmed,” Chase said. “They’re buying because they’re nervous or afraid. All they are thinking is, ‘Well, I might need this,’ so they buy it and then they don’t know what to do next.”
Shane, 33, of Denver is a first-time gun buyer and a married father of two young children. He purchased a 20-gauge shotgun on the advice of a law-enforcement friend.
“We purchased our firearms back at the beginning of the pandemic,” Shane told Complete Colorado. “We have two young kids, and we hope we never need to use it in a self-defense situation.”
Shane and his wife have gone shooting with friends and are enrolled in a concealed handgun permit class at the end of September.
Shane says he has voted Democratic all his life and admits to a view of gun owners that has changed substantially since becoming one.
“I think the perception we had of gun owners was if you have a bunch of guns it’s because you want to shoot people,” Shane said. “I think our eyes have been opened up a little. I think [gun ownership] definitely changed that. If it’s between your kid and somebody who’s in your house, that becomes an easier decision.”