ASHLAND Data from the FBI shows Kentucky is second in the nation this year in terms of gun background checks.  

With the biggest pandemic of the century raging, civil unrest in the cities and the most highly polarized presidential election to date, business is booming for gun stores.

The only trouble is, the guns and the ammunition are scarce these days.

Despite the drought in bullets, Kentuckians are thirsty for their guns — while only comprising 1.3% of the U.S population, they accounted for 7.6% of the gun background checks nationwide.

According to the FBI’s firearm background check data, 2020 is on track to be the biggest years for gun sales since the data began getting tracked in 1999. While background check requests aren’t a one-to-one correlation to a sale — after all, many gun owners like to buy multiple guns — they do indicate the commerce is up.

With data up until October, 32.1 million background checks were requested — that’s up 4 million from last year. According to the federal numbers, Kentucky accounted for 2.5 million of those checks. Only Illinois saw more — 6 million, per the FBI.

Together, the state Lincoln was born in and the state he grew up in accounted for a little more of a quarter of those checks nation wide this year.

While local gun dealers are enjoying the business, the high demand and low supply is a bit of strain. Walk into any gun store around these parts and you’ll be surprised at the bare shelves, the mentions of a handful of bullets here and there.

At Borders Sporting Goods, owner Todd Borders was able to peel himself away for second while two customers looked over an AR-15. Borders said since the first COVID-19 breakouts in March, business has been slamming ever since.

“Our normal busy season usually stops around tax time in April, but then the coronavirus come out the 19th of March and we’ve had a lot of people buying and it’s continued right on through,” Borders said. “The supply chain has slowed way down. A lot of factories are closed or they’re working half-staff.”

Ammunition — because a gun without a bullet is nothing more than an expensive paper weight — is experiencing a huge shortage, according to Borders. Summer production on basic hunting rounds, such as the .270 caliber, didn’t happen this year, so a lot of hunters this season are having to conserve their rounds, Borders said.

“I kind of hate for those who like to go out deer hunting,” Borders said.

Looking at the national trends, background checks skyrocketed during the initial roll out of COVID restrictions, jumping from 2.8 million in February to 3.7 million in March. Interestingly enough, Kentucky actually saw a decrease — 398,247 background checks in February and 235,305 in March.

In June, as protests and street clashes erupted in major cities across the country in the wake of the George Floyd killing, background checks saw a similar spike, to about 3.9 million that month.

Kentucky was no different, seeing nearly 400,000 background checks in both May and June that year.

Over at Bare Arms, company vice president Mike Crawford said both of those events have “skyrocketed” the sales of guns.

The biggest group of customers he’s seen this year are first-time gun buyers — overwhelmingly, they’re gravitating toward pistols.

“It’s just a crazy time right now with everything going on,” Crawford said. “People are buying to protect themselves and their families.”

At first, Crawford said he expected things to slow down, but now the business is having to adjust to a new normal.

“We’re kind of used to it now,” Crawford said. “We can’t get stuff like we’d like to. But we still have stuff coming in, stuff coming to the shelves. Ammo, it trickles in — it’s just a lot less.”

The latest data shows another bump both statewide and nationally in October. With the election of Joe Biden as the President of the United States, gun stores are seeing a bump from that as well. Both Borders and Crawford said they’ve seen a modest increase due to possible tightening of gun regulations, particularly in regards to high-capacity magazines.

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