By Jade Moldae
If there are any silver linings to be gleaned from the onset of COVID-19 it’s the unprecedented number of new customers joining the ranks of firearms ownership. Dealers across the U.S. report record amounts of first-time gun buyers have flooded their storefronts in the wake of COVID-19’s rapid spread — some of whom, ironically, were opposed to firearms ownership just weeks earlier.
“If you took the number of first-time firearms buyers prior to this pandemic — which was still a significant portion of our business — it has probably increased about fivefold,” noted John Phillips, founder of Poway Weapons & Gear Range in Poway, Calif. “Interestingly, most are people who had no interest in ever owning a firearm. It gives us a great opportunity to educate them.”
This widespread trend has given storefront dealers a golden opportunity to welcome an entirely new group of customers into their stores.
“It will be all about how we
bring these new folks into the fold
and keep them engaged.”
Jacquelyn Clark, Owner Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center Lakewood, Colo.
“It’s gone bananas,” shared Jacquelyn Clark, owner of Lakewood, Colo.-based Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in late March. “There are lots of new gun owners as a result of this pandemic. It will be all about how we, as an industry, bring these new folks into the fold and keep them engaged via education over the next few months.”
How long the panic buying lasts is anyone’s guess, but dealers should be proactive and plan to have outreach events once social distancing fears subside. (To this end, next month’s issue will have two features with tips for hosting events at your store or range.)
COVID-19 Impact Felt In Q1 NICS
NSSF-adjusted NICS background checks totaled 4,841,126 from Jan. 1 to March 31 — a significant uptick (41.8%) over the corresponding timeframe in 2019 (3,414,361). March 2020 posted an 80.4% jump over March 2019 (from 1,371,114 to 2,375,525).
The unadjusted figure — 3,740,688 — represents the highest single-month total in the NICS system’s 20-plus-year history. (Dec. 2015 was the previous mile marker with 3,314,594 unadjusted checks.) Compared to the two most recent surge years, Q1 2020 outpaced Q1 2016 (4,139,791) and holds its own with Q1 2013 (4,926,193).
These figures will come as no surprise to those behind the counter, however, with several dealers reporting tenfold increases in the days following President Trump’s March 13 national emergency declaration.
“A surge would be an understatement,” noted David Rich, owner of Naples Gun Shop & School in Naples, Fla. “Daily, we’re selling out of GLOCKs and have to stay up late finding available replacements through our distribution network. New customers are looking at Taurus, SCCY and other brands — basically saying they’ll purchase whatever we have.”
“We’re seeing unprecedented sales of both firearms and ammunition — exceeding any of the previous political or high-profile media event-driven surges,” added Rex McClanahan, president of Buds Gun Shop in Lexington, Ky.
Path Forward In 2020
In light of today’s chaotic time, we’re tailoring our coverage to be responsive to the sudden changes in the marketplace. You can count on Shooting Industry to continue with regular columns and features, but they will be modified as needed to facilitate your efforts behind the counter. (Which is why Industry News, Personal Defense Market and this column deviated from original Woman’s Issue content.)
Further, we’re bolstering online-only content to deliver timely updates on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s impacting the industry. Visit www.shootingindustry.com/covid19 for more.
Women’s Groups Go Virtual
The Well Armed Woman and A Girl & A Gun have expanded their capabilities to include virtual venues.
The Well Armed Woman has introduced a seven-part online course (“Women & Guns: The Basics”) taught by Founder Carrie Lightfoot.
“This course isn’t meant to replace the invaluable experience and learning that takes place live-training with a qualified instructor,” Lightfoot said. “It’s meant to create a comfortable, non-intimidating place to enter gun ownership and learn the basics. My goal is for women to gain the confidence and knowledge they need to walk into any gun store or range comfortably and confidently.”
In light of recent events relating to COVID-19, A Girl & A Gun’s 8th Annual National Conference was expanded to a new digital platform — held April 27–May 3 (with bonus sessions on May 4 and 5). Participants who sign into the new conference platform will have immediate access to all of the training sessions for eight weeks, covering topics like self-defense, recreational and competitive shooting.
(Editor’s Note: We know this conference will take place as the issue is being published, but it further demonstrates how technology can be used to connect with the community.)
/ agirlandagun.org / thewellarmedwoman.com
Firearm Accidents Reach Record Low
Unintentional firearm fatalities reached their lowest level ever, according to the latest data from the National Safety Council’s Injury Facts Report 2018 (released mid-March).
NSSF applauded the report, which shows fatal firearm accidents at their lowest level since recordkeeping began in 1903. For the past two decades, the firearms industry has provided more than 100 million firearm-locking devices with new firearms sold and through its award-winning Project ChildSafe program. The industry’s educational materials are widely distributed to gun owners by firearm manufacturers, retailers, instructors and others nationwide.
“As an industry that prioritizes firearm safety, it’s extremely good news to see this record decline in gun-related accidents,” said Joe Bartozzi, NSSF president and CEO. “It’s gratifying to know our industry’s gun safety efforts, including our long-running Project ChildSafe firearm safety education program, are contributing to helping save lives.”
The National Safety Council data showed in 2018 there were 458 firearm fatalities, accounting for less than 1% of unintentional fatalities from all principal causes. Accidental firearm deaths have declined by 47% from 1998 to 2018.
“Even one accidental firearm fatality is one too many,” Bartozzi said. “We’re aiming for zero, and this is great progress.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a wave of first-time buyers, while school closures have resulted in many children staying at home. On its website, Project ChildSafe provides education resources on topics like the 10 commandments of firearm safety and tips for parents on having “the talk” with their kids on gun safety. / projectchildsafe.org
Distribution Shipments Spike In Response To COVID-19
Real-time insights into COVID-19’s impact on the wholesale distribution channel are available thanks to NASGW SCOPE data platform.
“The COVID-19 virus is having an overwhelmingly negative impact on the entire country, but if there is any silver lining, it is the boost it’s provided to our industry,” said Kenyon Gleason, NASGW president. “SCOPE has allowed us to correlate trends with what’s happening in the real world with trustworthy data and measure just how impactful this period is in comparison to previous years.”
SCOPE reported multiple sales spikes in the days following the onset of COVID-19. March 8–14, firearm and ammunition shipments experienced increases of 13.74% and 168%. (In some states, SCOPE DLX showed up to a 600% jump in ammunition shipments.) The following week ending March 21 ammunition sales nearly doubled, while firearms continued to climb (67%) compared to the previous three-year average.
From Jan. 1 to Apr. 4, both firearm and ammunition shipments posted increases over the corresponding timeframe in 2019 and the previous three-year average. Firearms shipments were up 28.85% over the same period in 2019 (from $658.9 million to $849 million) and 5.3% over the previous three-year average ($806.2 million). In the same span, ammunition sales totaled $91.3 million, increases of 99.88% and 61.15% over 2019 ($45.7 million) and the prior three-year average ($56.7 million), respectively. (The optics segment has also achieved gains in 2020, reporting increases of 23.58% and 2.71% over 2019 and the three-year average.)
SCOPE DLX (Distributor Link Exchange) collects weekly shipment data from 20 leading distributors that represent demand from thousands of FFLs across the U.S. / nasgwscope.org
Salutes to Easton Kuboushek, NASGW director of data programs, for sharing this data with SI’s readership.
Editor’s Note: For Industry Link’s original commentary for the Woman’s Issue — which evaluates what the industry can do to continue improving its approach to expanding sales to women — visit www.shootingindustry.com.