Gun sales soar as buyers fear uncertainty of coronavirus shutdowns, sinking economy

Recently, customers have been outnumbering employees at Hyatt Guns on Wilkinson Boulevard
Recently, customers have been outnumbering employees at Hyatt Guns on Wilkinson Boulevard(Mark Hames/ Charlotte Observer)
Published: Mar. 21, 2020 at 7:55 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 21, 2020 at 7:56 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Amanda Zhou/ Charlotte Observer) - Last week, Larry Hyatt, the owner of Hyatt Guns, noticed business was doing unusually well both online and in the Wilkinson Boulevard store. First-time buyers — including senior citizens and women — were outnumbering the employees, he said.

“Friday, it hit,” Hyatt said. “That’s when evidently whatever news came out and sparked this.”

Last week, Charlotte saw a flurry of announcements and closures over the novel coronavirus pandemic. Last Tuesday, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of an emergency before President Donald Trump declared one for the nation last Friday.

While the numbers haven’t been formally calculated, Hyatt said that Saturday’s sales are turning out to look like the best day for the store’s over 60-year history, followed by the sales on Monday. Hyatt Guns is closed on Sunday.

Hyatt estimated that sales have been ten times greater than what is typically expected in March.

The last time the store was this busy, Hyatt said, was in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The surge in sales isn’t just at Hyatt Guns. Brian Sisson — the owner of the Pineville Gun Shop and The Range, a training center and retailer in both Ballantyne and Lake Norman — said he’s noticed more people enrolling in classes and taking aim at shooting ranges.

“We’ve had people come in and say with all the panic in the news they’ve decided to buy a firearm,” he said.

At Point Blank Range, which has locations in Mooresville and Matthews, general manager John Fields said the facility has been selling a weeks-worth of guns every day in the last week. More people are also taking one-on-one classes to learn how to use their new firearms.

“Our new motto is, ‘Dedicated to help you protect your toilet paper,’ ” he said.


In North Carolina, individuals who want to purchase a handgun must obtain a concealed-carry permit or a sheriff-issued pistol purchase permit. Long guns, which include rifles and shotguns, can be purchased at a federally licensed firearms dealer with a state I.D. and a background check conducted through the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

According to data from the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, handgun purchase permits in the first two weeks of of March totaled 487. That’s a 53% increase from a similar time span in January, data show

A spokeswoman for sheriff’s office said the processing time has remained the same.

Fears surrounding the new coronavirus pandemic have driven gun sales nationally as well.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, NICS saw a 300% increase in checks on Monday compared to the same time last year.

As for February, the National Instant Background Check System saw over 2.8 million checks done, over a 30% increase compared to the same month last year. Within North Carolina, February saw over 52,000 checks — a 6% increase from last year.

The guns meant for competitions, hunting and collectors are not in demand, Hyatt said. It’s the rifles, shotguns and handguns that are flying off the shelves.

“It’s about self-protection,” Hyatt said. “What can I do to protect my family? What can I do if I”m in a fight at the grocery? A firearm makes the weak strong.”

Sisson said that many of his customers have felt the government has overreacted to the pandemic.

People are in fear of their own protection because the media has conveyed that society is going to collapse, Fields said.

“On Wall Street, they sell, and in gun stores, they buy,” he said.

Hyatt said unintended consequence of North Carolina’s requirement that buyers obtain a handgun purchase permit is that in an emergency, people cannot get a handgun quickly. The waiting period for a handgun purchase permit is around two weeks but Hyatt said he isn’t sure if the store will even be open then.


Public health officials have encouraged individuals to spend less time around other people to prevent the transmission of the virus. On Tuesday, the White House issued a recommendation to avoid groups larger than 10 people.

As a result, Fields said all concealed-carry classes — which usually consist of 30 people in one room all day — have been canceled.

Excluding himself, Hyatt said that older employees, who are considered to be at the greatest risk from dying from COVID-19, have been furloughed and sent home.

According to reporting by ProPublica, early estimates from China show that the death rate for COVID-19 falls between 3.6 and 14.8% for those older than 60. For comparison, the death rate for the flu for those over 65 falls around 0.83% in the U.S.

“Unlike the Sandy Hook Era, our staff is under pressure,” Hyatt said. “Their wives don’t want them to come to work and be exposed.”

On the Hyatt Guns website, Hyatt wrote a note urging customers to order purchases online and then pick them up in store to avoid crowds.

Sisson said prior to the pandemic, the store had already had a hard time attracting employees due to the tight labor market. Like most places, Sisson’s stores and facilities are regularly being wiped down and sanitized.

To decrease foot traffic to the office, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is now mailing customers their permit instead of having them available for pick-up. Non-criminal fingerprinting, which is needed for name changes or employment purposes, has been suspended. However, the sheriff’s office is still administering fingerprinting for concealed carry permits.

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