COVID-19 causes gun ownership in America to skyrocket

Photo essay by Antonio Aguilar, CONTRIBUTOR

My photo essay focuses on how COVID-19 has affected the gun community. I spent a lot of time going around Salinas, CA, and the surrounding areas to get some insight into how COVID-19 has affected the gun community. I visited a few of the major franchise sporting good stores, small local firearm businesses, and interviewed experienced hunters and a concerned parent. COVID-19 has impacted every aspect of the world. The gun community has been hit hard with new buyers that some may call “panic buyers.” The huge influx of newcomers has crippled the manufacturers and they haven’t been able to keep up with the new demand.

In the city of Salinas at night, most people do not keep up with the issues that revolve around the gun community. Since COVID-19 has come into the picture, many people are becoming gun owners to feel a sense of security and be able to protect themselves from those who seek to do harm.

The desk of a local at-home gunsmith, the individual, who didn’t want to be named, recently bought a 22 long rifle on the AR15 platform (which is on the table, lower left). His reasoning for purchasing a new firearm was because of the current situation with COVID-19, “people are arming themselves, and I felt. I needed a firearm to practice with, but I wanted to ensure that I can protect my family if needed.”

This individual also showed me his ammo stockpile of a 22 long rifle. He has over 1000 rounds of ammunition, and I asked him why he has so much? His response was, “the reason why I have this much ammo is that I am never going to know when I can buy more. People are going to sporting good stores and buying five or six boxes at a time and not leaving any for anyone else.”

Luna, a local gun enthusiast, showed me a handgun that she made herself. She told me that the reason why she built her gun rather than buying one was due to the lack of availability at gun stores. “People are going every day and are waiting outside, lined up around the corner to get a firearm, and I did not want to do that. I would rather build my own and understand the internal mechanics of my firearm to get a more intimate experience with my gun.”

I interviewed Luna’s mother to get her perspective, and she told me that she is scared of how the world is right now, “with us being in quarantine, I worry if we have enough food to sustain a household of 6 and I wonder if times get truly desperate, will people try to break into my home to steal what we have. I have recently taken my safety firearms certificate and passed, so now I’m looking into my first firearm purchase.”

Luna’s mother also wanted to make sure that her youngest kids understood what to do if they ever found a firearm. She decided to show them a firearm safety video that taught kids what to do if they ever found a firearm, and the video was a sing-along animated video that is meant to educate children on how to handle this specific situation.

Brenden (pictured on the left) and his brother after killing a wild hog. Brenden is an experienced hunter that has been hunting since the age of 7. He was extremely proud of this kill and used the meat to eat. Brenden told me about his experience when picking up ammo for his rifle, and he said, “I had to put off my hunting trip because of the scarcity of ammo. I was calling local stores to see if they received any ammo for my rifle. It took over a month to find one box just to go out hunting, but I got to admit the wait was worth the experience of hunting.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods is one store that has been affected. For a major franchise to have empty shelves where firearms and ammo used to be is shocking. I asked the firearms employee about his opinion and experiences with the pandemic, and he said, “the big issue with our firearms sales is ammunition sales. There’s been a slower production of ammo, but firearm sales have gone up. A lot of the firearms have been selling out, and every day someone is calling us to ask if we have this ammo or this rifle, especially on Mondays since that’s when we get our shipments.”

Markley’s Indoor Range and Gun Shop, a local shooting range in Watsonville, CA, has been affected hugely by COVID-19. They had to close down their indoor shooting range in compliance with the new city ordinance, and they also had to post signs explaining that people need to cover their faces to protect others.

Even with the closure of their range, Markley’s has kept their store open to the public but restricts the number of people allowed in at a time to keep everyone safe. Chris Gillespie, Markley’s owner for over 30 years, says that he welcomes new buyers and would love to train them about firearms, but with the impact that COVID-19 has had on the gun world, ammo and firearms are flying off the shelves.