ASHLAND In line with national reports, local gun shops are seeing an uptick in sales in the wake of concerns about COVID-19 outbreak sweeping the country.

But is it driven by fears and anxieties surrounding COVID-19? It’s complicated, according to three local gun shops.

Billy Bare, owner of Bare Arms in Ashland and Huntington, said he’s seeing an uptick in a lot of first-time buyers concerned about home security.

“We’re seeing a lot of ladies, elderly, single mothers, people who maybe two weeks ago weren’t a fan of guns,” Bare said. “We’re not trying to scare anyone, but there could be uncertain times coming.” 

However, prior to the outbreak of coronavirus — with 41,000 cases reported nationwide as of Monday — gun sales were already going up, Bare said. While he’s running low on .223 and .556 rounds — the caliber used in AR-15 rifles — Bare said ammunition scarcity was already there before the outbreak.

“I think it’s a little uncertainty about the election; we always have an uptick in an election year,” Bare said. “Anytime there is uncertainty, there’s going to be an uptick.”

A report on background checks from the FBI supports Bare’s assessment. The FBI reported in February 2020, 2.8 million background checks were requested for a firearm purchase, against 2 million last year. In 2016, the FBI received 2.6 million background checks. Background checks do not represent the number of firearms sold and a one-to-one correlation cannot be made between a background check and a sale, according to the FBI.

At Border’s Sporting Goods, owner Todd Borders could be found answering calls and emails, and tracking down inventory early Monday afternoon. While he is seeing more ammunition sales from repeat customers, Borders said he has been slammed since March 12. He characterized the current rush for guns and bullets as “a storm.” 

“Obviously with what’s going with the virus, that’s a part of it, but we’re also going into fishing season, turkey season, income tax return, so now you throw this on top and it’s been hectic,” Borders said. “A lot of people like to shoot around. We’re a pretty pro-gun area.”

David Sanders, an employee at Stevens’ Gun Firearms, said a lot of what he’s seeing is an influx of regular customers who are fixing on passing the quarantine target shooting.

“A lot of it is boredom, especially with the shelter-in-place(-like) orders being announced,” Sanders said. “People need something to do.”

Right now, shops are well stocked with guns and ammunition. Bare and Borders are both concerned that there might be a drop in inventory due to gun manufacturers reducing production in order to implement social distancing on shop floors. Bare said gun supplies were already beginning to run low due to the aforementioned uptick in sales, but COVID-19 panic has depleted stocks at the distributor level.

“It’s all depleted. The guns you used to call up and get any day of the week, they’re sold,” Bare said. “What’s out here is what’s out here. The days of being selective are for the time being temporarily gone.”

Borders said he has put a two-box limitation on .556 and 9 mm to keep his inventory stocked. Over the weekend, a couple customers took the three-hour trek from Louisville due to a shortage out there, Borders said. He, too, is concerned about shortages following the rush.

“We’ve sold out of a lot of products,” Borders said. “A lot of the manufacturers we’re buying from now have cut their staffs in half to maintain social distancing for the coronavirus. So that’s going to hurt production, so there’s going to be lull here where we’ll be without certain kinds of ammunition and certain firearms.” 

While a possible drought in guns and rounds could come into play, Sanders said Stevens’ is concerned with the possibility of gouging by customers buying up large amounts of rounds to resell at a higher mark-up.

“The owner, Mike Fetters, is very strongly against gouging, so we’re limiting to two boxes of ammunition per person,” Sanders said. “We want all the customers to be able to purchase something, not just one person coming in with more access to funds and buying up the market.”

In Sunday’s order shuttering non-essential businesses, Gov. Andy Beshear excluded gun retailers on the basis of state code precluding interruption of firearm sales. The governor did ask gun shops to maintain CDC recommended standards for social distancing and the like. At Bare Arms, the indoor range has been shuttered and other operations — such as the holster shop — could be reduced as well, Bare said. Only four people will be allowed in the lobby at a time. Borders said his shop will be going exclusively to curbside service starting Tuesday, with hours between 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

“Call us here at the shop, we’re going to be here, so if you need something pull up and we’ll run it out to you,” Borders said. “If you want to shop around, check out our website.”

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