ALTON – Gun buying continues at a brisk pace, but finding what you want can be a problem.
Gun sales have skyrocketed over the past year, fueled by concerns over COVID-19, civil unrest and gun control policies. As a result, both firearms and ammunition are scarce.
Scott Pulaski, owner of Piasa Armory, an arms store in Alton, said sales are typically high before Christmas and then during tax filing season.
“This time it picked up again after Christmas (2019) and never stopped,” he said. “It went even higher after the lockdowns started in March and never stopped.”
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System performed more than 21 million background checks in 2020, far surpassing 2019’s 13.2 million and the previous record of 15.7 Millions of reviews broke in 2016.
Many of those who bought guns – an estimated 8.4 million in 2020 – were gun buyers for the first time. The NSSF also said that buyers are becoming increasingly diverse, with women making up 40% of gun purchases and African Americans seeing the largest increase of any demographic category.
Pulaski called it a “perfect combination of people who are scared, people who want to be prepared, and people who see other people buy things they want for themselves.”
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“It’s kind of a herd mentality,” he added.
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As a result, some items are difficult to find.
“Lots of ARs (AR-15 style firearms), lots of home defense-style shotguns, and pretty much anything that is a handgun is all but impossible to find right now,” Pulaski said. “One of our major suppliers has around 3,000 handguns in their catalog, but they currently have four in stock.”
He said there was a similar shortage of ammunition and that had resulted in some price cuts.
“Instead of a 9mm box that we would pay $ 10 for and sell for $ 12, we’ll see it sell for $ 60 to $ 80,” Pulaski said. “Some people buy high and have to sell higher, and some people buy low and sell very high.”
Some shotshells were available from Alton Farm & Home Supply last week, but the few rifle cartridges were 7.62mm NATO (.308 caliber). Workers said ammunition flew off shelves as soon as it was in stock.
The number of firearms available in the store was also limited.
“All of the usual stuff is just gone,” said Pulaski, adding that odd or unique rounds are still available. “If you want to hunt an elephant, we can probably find ammunition for it”
He noted that the last major round of panic buying took place in 2013.
“Lots of people have kept stocks and stocked up,” he said. “The same thing happened. But now there are 8 million more gun owners.”
Pulaski said most non-gun owners don’t understand that ammunition can run out very quickly. He said a 50-round 9mm box could be shot in about 20 minutes.
“If you’ve had a bunch of people with you or you’re shooting or practicing for a full day, it’s easy to do (1,000) laps in a day,” he said.
The surge in sales has also spanned a large number of first-time gun owners, according to the NSSF. Many gun buyers were gun buyers for the first time.
“We saw a lot of first-time buyers,” said Pulaski. “The biggest problem we’ve seen is FOID map applications.”
The FOID or Firearm Owner Identification Card is required in Illinois to own or purchase firearms and ammunition. If someone applies for a card, the Illinois State Police should issue it within 30 days.
“And they don’t,” said Pulaski. “There is no recourse to that. It takes more than a year to come back.”
The Illinois State Rifle Association and others have filed lawsuits against the ISP over the delays. The complaint was filed this summer by residents of the state along with some gun rights groups in federal court, asking the court to declare the delays to be a violation of the second amendment. It also asked the court to recognize that this was a violation of the defendant’s rights after the 14th
ISP officials have said they are working off the backlog, but there has been an explosion of applications during the pandemic. The delays and backlogs existed before the pandemic. The agency recently reported an average wait of 121 days and a backlog of 145,000 FOID cards.
The delays are detrimental to people’s rights, said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association.
“You can’t buy a gun. You can’t buy ammunition,” Pearson said. “We had calls that came in with a letter. They said it wasn’t valid, so they can’t buy anything.”
The ISP has stated that through emergency administration rules, they validated expired FOID cards during the renewal process. Pearson said that was not enough.
“If you show an arms dealer an invalid FOID card with a nice piece of paper from the state police, they don’t care,” Pearson said.
Another concern, especially with new gun owners, is safety. Throughout the year both gun advocates and gun control groups have expressed concern.
“During this stressful time – and when children spend more time at home – the gun industry is reminding gun owners to protect themselves and their families when they are not in use,” said Joe Bartozzi, president and CEO of the NSSF, said in a published statement. “The last thing any gun owner wants is their gun falls into the wrong hands, especially those of a child or someone at risk of harming themselves.”
Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, repeated this in a press release earlier this year.
“We must recognize the risks of bringing weapons into the home and take all appropriate measures to mitigate that risk,” she said.
Both groups value the safe storage of guns and talk to children about gun safety. They also have additional information on their respective websites, ProjectChildSafe.org for the NSSF and OperationEndFamilyFire.org for Brady.
“More and more parents are taking on the role of educators in their homes, so it’s a good time to talk to your kids about gun safety even if you don’t own a gun,” said Bartozzi. “If you own a firearm, make sure your family understands the firearms safety rules in your home and always store guns responsibly when they are not in use.”
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