High political tensions keep Pa. gun sales booming

"We've had a major increase where we were selling close to $20,000 in guns a day, several days in a row."

  • Sam Dunklau

(Harrisburg) — Gun dealers across the commonwealth are dealing with a high demand for firearms and ammunition amid the coronavirus pandemic and tensions over the impending inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Retailers in several counties said as of Tuesday they were serving dozens of customers per day, a portion of which are first-time gun buyers.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates more than eight million people bought a gun for the first time last year, when gun shops were declared essential businesses in the early days of the pandemic.

Kurt Green, who manages Staudt’s Gun Shop in Harrisburg, said in a typical week the store has been selling between $8,000 and $10,000 worth of guns, ammunition and accessories, a trend that’s been steady since March.

When Keystone Crossroads spoke with owner Joe Staudt at the start of the pandemic, he estimated the shop was 10 times as busy as it usually would be, as fears about state government-imposed shutdowns were just beginning to surface.

In the wake of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, store manager Green said sales have doubled.

“Especially in the last week, we’ve had a major increase where we were selling close to $20,000 in guns a day, several days in a row,” he said. [There’s] definitely a steady consistency and then now a pretty serious uptick.”

Kurt Green, used with permission / Staudts Gun Shop

A store employee of Staudts Gun Shop in Harrisburg helps a customer on Jan. 13, 2021.

A store employee of Staudt’s Gun Shop in Harrisburg helps a customer on Jan. 13, 2021. Green attributed the upswing in part to concerns over whether the incoming Biden administration will clamp down on gun owners.

“The chance of gun control being passed is very strong,” he said. “People are very concerned about their Second Amendment rights, which is definitely driving sales. People are trying to get what they can now.”

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to ban military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines, as well as close ownership loopholes and expand background check requirements.

Chris Hegge, owner of Northeast Firearms in Honesdale, said his shop has kept busy with customers over the last 10 months.

“We’re staying pretty steady, trying to do the best with what we’ve got,” Hegge said.

Despite heavy customer traffic, many dealers are having a hard time keeping up with their inventory. Hegge said getting a hold of both guns and ammunition to sell is a challenge.

“Shipments are slow because the demand is up. That’s our biggest problem right now, getting inventory,” he said. “People are always trying to buy ammo. Not just the people that are new gun owners but even avid shooters are just trying to get ammo so that they can keep target shooting. It’s just really hard for them.”

Kurt Green said ammo shortages mean he’s only stocking about one-third of the amount of boxes he usually would.

“There’s a major shortage going on in basically every aspect of the gun community. Nothing is safe. Nothing is off the table. Pretty much everything is difficult to get at this time,” Green said.

The trends appear to track with Pennsylvania State Police background check data released Wednesday. The department conducted a record-setting 420,000 checks related to firearm purchases in the last three months of 2020. State police conducted some 406,000 in the three months before that.

More than 7,400 people were denied, and 52 were arrested for providing false info or because of an outstanding warrant.

The FBI warns armed protests could occur at all 50 state capitals in the next week, raising concern among law enforcement, who have stepped up their presence at the state’s Capitol Complex.

Chris Hegge said he’s noticed more people are purchasing guns to protect themselves.

“There is some more self-protection [purchases] than there was in the past, which isn’t a bad thing because it gets people into the sport. You can’t just buy a gun and hope you’re going to protect yourself with it. You have to practice with it,” he said.

Gun owners can openly carry their firearms in most areas of Pennsylvania and can carry them concealed with a permit. The Wolf administration says regulators will recognize permits that have expired within the last year until mid-March.

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