Guns Sales Break Records With Gun Control Legislation Likely If Democrats Win

Customers entering the GunHo Indoor Shooting Range & Firearm Store in Pass Christian, Mississippi, push by a sign reading, "Leave the world outside this door." Salesman Daniel Fugere said the sign is intended to welcome everyone to the store. But for many, it's the world outside that drives them to buy a gun.

"With everything going on today, people don't feel safe," he told Newsweek. "A lot of women come in—medical professionals who don't feel safe walking to their car at night and have never thought about having a gun—and buy a firearm. They feel safer."

Stock photo shows rifles for sale at a gun shop in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dominick Reuter/AFP via Getty Images

Gun sales have increased throughout the nation, driven by concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, urban riots and the likelihood of increased regulation if the Democrats win the White House, regain control of the Senate and hold the House.

Fugere said most customers buy a weapon for self-protection. He works with customers to match their needs and physical capabilities with the right gun.

Prospective buyers can rent and fire several weapons at the store's shooting range to find the right fit. Men experienced with weapons often upgrade their handguns or add an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle to their collection, he said.

Many first-time buyers, including women, choose a weapon from the Smith & Wesson EZ line of 9mm semi-automatic pistols. Fugere said the weapons are light, easy to handle and have a low recoil, making them a good choice for women and anyone with arthritis, joint injuries or bone problems. The black-finished guns are priced from $439.99 to $499.99.

In a note posted on a gun enthusiast website, a woman who called herself Tessabell5, raved about the EZ line:

"I have limited use of one hand, and was convinced I'd only use a revolver with ease, but a trainer at the range had me try the 380 version of this and I was hooked. Racking the slide is so simple and the magazine loads easily (even one handed). I was worried this newer 9mm version wouldn't have the same appeal, but it is perfect for me. I also love the safety feature in the handle that helps ensure I grip this well. It isn't a favorite for my boyfriend who enjoys higher pistols, but I love this gun. As a side note, I use this and a .38 LadySmith (Smith & Wesson) revolver."

Background checks for gun-buyers at a store or a private sale, those seeking a concealed weapon permit and other transactions included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) totaled 28.826 million through September, eclipsing last year's record of 28.369 million, a 28% increase, the FBI reported. While the statistics include gun sales, the total number of checks doesn't represent the number of weapons sold, the FBI said.

Some states routinely re-check all categories to keep the data current.

Through September 30 this year, Illinois led the nation in background checks for all purposes with 5.6 million. It's followed by Kentucky with (2.364 million) checks, Texas (1.730 million), Florida (1.386 million), Indiana (1.203 million), California (1.187 million) and Pennsylvania (1.030 million), the FBI reported.

A total of 361.830 million background checks for all purposes have been completed since the program began in November 1998.

In 2017, the most recent year for complete statistics, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said 39,773 people died from gun-related injuries, including suicides, homicides and accidents. About 75 percent of all murders, or 14,542, involved the use of a gun.

About 60 percent of gun-related deaths, or 23,854, were suicides. (See related story on Donna's Law nearby.) Police-involved shootings accounted for 553 deaths and 486 gun deaths were accidental, government statistics showed.

By contrast, the CDC said 38,659 people were killed in traffic accidents in 2017. About 2 million are injured in vehicle crashes each year. About one-third of the deaths were alcohol-related and another third involved speeding.

Zogby Analytics in Utica, New York found that the number of gun owners increased 3.9% between October 2019 and October 2020 to 31.3% of the population. The number of individuals in a household keeping a gun at home, work, vacation cottage or club for personal protection, hunting or target shooting increased 7% to 42.2% in the last year. Membership in the National Rifle Association, a gun rights advocacy group, increased 6% to 17.7% in the last year, Zogby's polling found.

The National Rifle Association did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

"While there is fierce debate in Washington D.C. and among voters about what certain types of guns and accessories constitute 'assault weapons,' adults in the U.S. are buying and keeping more guns," Jonathan Zogby said.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Heller decision that the Second Amendment establishes an individual's right to own a gun for lawful purposes. The District of Columbia had banned handguns.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said, "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."

Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, an advocacy group in Washington, said fear caused by the coronavirus pandemic, urban riots and the election appear to be driving gun sales.

"Typically, gun sales rise in times of fear," he told Newsweek. "We live in a time when there's a lot of fear, including fear that there might be more gun regulation with a Democratic President and Democratic majorities in Congress. And, there's been a lot of unrest."

He said today's anxiety isn't unique, and noted that gun sales also rise after a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a major event such as September 11, in which terrorist attacks in New York and Washington killed 2,977 people.

He said a President Joe Biden likely would close the "Charleston Loophole" that allowed mass murderer Dylan Roof to obtain a gun legally. Under the current system, a person is allowed to purchase and take possession of a gun if NICS doesn't respond within three days.

In 2015, Dylan Roof shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The ninth-grade dropout, 22 at the time of the murders, is the first person to be sentenced to death under a Federal hate crime law. His attorneys have appealed the death sentence to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, arguing that Roof suffered from schizophrenia at the time of the shootings and therefore cannot be legally responsible for his actions.

Dr. Garen Wintemute, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, Davis, and director of the Violence Prevention Research Program, said background checks and other laws help prevent "high risk persons" from buying guns and reduce the risk of violence. But significant flaws in the design and administration of background check policies may explain why current laws often seem ineffective, he said in a research paper published in Health Affairs.

Flaws include incomplete data, under-reporting disqualifying events in databases, ambiguous or too narrow definitions of events that prevent a firearm purchase, release of weapons before checks are completed, weak enforcement, noncompliance by sellers and buyers and failure to include private-party transfers. He concluded that a well-designed and mandatory universal background check system would further reduce gun violence.

Chris Rasmussen, a professor of history at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, said the American character and a cultural divide appear to be at the center of the nation's ongoing debate about guns. He said his father owns guns, but never uses them – even for target practice. Yet his father bristles at the idea of government confiscation or even the suggestion he should voluntarily turn in the weapons.

Sides in the debate are often drawn along urban vs. rural lines, Rasmussen said, but he believes the split is much deeper.

"With guns, the split is often between individuals who see gun control or wearing a mask during the (coronavirus) pandemic as an infringement of their rights vs. those with a more communitarian view," Rasmussen told Newsweek.

Rasmussen emphasized the belief of the Founding Fathers in peaceful resolution of differences.

"I think the framers of the Constitution wanted us to have a healthy skepticism about government – they wanted us to be watchful, but not cynical," he said. "The Constitution was designed to allow people with fundamentally different views to resolve their disputes without killing each other."

During Prohibition, many people casually broke the law over cocktails, creating contempt for government. It was in effect for 13 years, and was debated for far longer. Rasmussen said fundamental changes in gun control and how people view the issue will likely be a lengthy process as well.

"Any change in attitudes about guns will take a long time," he said. "We've made headway in race relations, and attitudes about driving while drunk have changed. It could be that owning a firearm will become less vital in the future, but it will take a long time."

That time does not appear to be now. On March 20 of this year, NICS processed 210,308 background checks – the highest single-day total since the program began in 1998. At

"One of my display cases has three racks of 9mm pistols and holds about 60 guns," Warren LaCasse, owner of the Gun Room in Portland, Oregon, told Newsweek. "It's been cleaned out seven or eight times since February."