March saw the biggest gun sales on record. And with many states and local governments shutting down gun stores in March, there were clearly many people who wanted guns but couldn’t get them. The true demand for guns was undoubtedly even much higher.
The 2.3 million background checks completed during March were 29 percent higher than the busiest month in 2016, the previous yearly high, when people were fearful that Hillary Clinton’s election would lead to gun bans.
The run on gun stores has overwhelmed the gun background-check system. Licensed dealers have told me that they are getting busy signals whenever they try contacting the relevant federal and state agencies. They say that they are having an “impossible” time completing background checks. If the system worked correctly, gun sales would have been still higher.
There may not be any apocalypse in store for Americans, but people have legitimate concerns about the limitations of police protection amidst a pandemic. More than 6,100, or 17%, of New York City’s police officers called out sick on Wednesday. At the same time, 911 calls in the city have hit record highs. Some people have to wait a long time for help.
Meanwhile, a fifth of Detroit’s police force is quarantined and not able to do its job.
The Philadelphia Police Department went so far as to order officers to stop making arrests for many non-violent crimes.
Many departments are issuing masks, goggles, and gloves to their officers. But in the often rough-and-tumble process of making arrests, police come in very close physical contact with offenders.
Some criminals with the coronavirus are actively trying to infect police officers, for example by coughing in officers’ faces. “I don’t think it’s too far to say that officers are scared out there,” said Sgt. Manny Ramirez, president of Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
Telecommuting isn’t an option for police, and their jobs are now even more dangerous than usual. Many departments across the country have understandably scaled back policing in an effort to limit officers’ potential exposure to the disease.
Thirty-four states are releasing some prison inmates early to try to prevent spread of the virus within the close quarters of jails. 1,700 inmates have already been released from the Los Angeles County jail, and another 2,800 cases being reviewed. Jails across California are making similar releases.
On Saturday, the US Department of Homeland Security updated its list of “essential” businesses to include gun stores. Twenty states are now using the list to determine what industries should be exempted from stay-at-home orders.
Many places that have banned gun sales have moved to at least somewhat relax restrictions. Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf reversed his original order that gun stores must close, though operations are still severely restricted. Gun stores are permitted "to complete only the portions of a sale/transfer that must be conducted in-person under the law," and only by prior appointment. New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy also rescinded his previous ban after the new federal guidance was issued, but adopted similar, strict regulations on how gun stores can operate. Citing the federal memorandum, Los Angeles County has also reversed a previous ban.
But gun control activists aren’t happy with the increase in gun sales. “This is a contemptible and exploitative move by the gun lobby to put industry profits over public safety,” said Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign. “There is no constitutional right to immediately buy or sell guns and there is certainly no right to spread coronavirus while buying or selling guns.” As to the Department of Homeland Security recommendations, she said, “There is no way politics isn’t playing a role in this.”
Ms. Brown doesn’t really explain how people can have a right to own a gun but not have a right to buy them.
When police can’t be there to provide protection from a criminal, people are far safer if they have a gun. That is particularly true for the most vulnerable citizens, such as women and the elderly. With a gun, a defender’s physical strength doesn’t really matter.
This surge in gun sales is likely to continue, and may even increase, at least if the government fixes bottlenecks in the background check system. With police cutting back their efforts and prisons releasing criminals, Americans have every right to be cautious and get ready to defend themselves and their families. They should not hesitate to do so.