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Gun sales remain high after 'crazy' 2020

(Michael Saechang/Flickr)

First-time gun owners, women and Californians are driving high gun sales in Austin and Texas, according to local gun shop owners.

Gun sales are almost as high as last year, when they spiked, driven by lockdowns, mass protests, police reform and the presidential election.

FBI background checks, which serve as a proxy for gun sales, increased 56% between 2019 and 2020 in Texas. There were 915,296 background checks in Texas between January and May, which is about on par with the number during the same period in 2020 and about one-third more than during the same period in 2019.

"We've been busy," General Manager of McBride's Guns on North Lamar Joe McBride said before jumping off the phone to attend to his store. A Girl and A Gun, a women's shooting league based in Cedar Park, has also seen steady demand for memberships, Executive Director Robyn Sandoval wrote in an email to Austonia. The league welcomed 701 new members, a record-high, in March and 429 last month.

Behind the sales

Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works in South Austin, said demand started to level off in March and April after a crazy 2020. "Lines out the door," he said. "We had about 10,000 students cross our doors to take a class."

Although demand isn't quite as high as it was at its peak last year, it remains strong and is accompanied by better supply now that certain pandemic-related supply chains have been resolved, Cargill said. He declined to share more specific numbers.

First-time gun owners are driving this demand in Austin and around the country. A survey by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearm trade association and lobbying group, found that first-time gun buyers made up around 40% of customers between January and April 2020.

Cargill has noticed this at Central Texas Gun Works. Another new customer base? California transplants. "New residents are coming in with paper licenses, fresh in from California," he said.

Women are also a driving force, buying guns at unprecedented rates. The same NSSF survey found that women made up around 40% of first-time gun buyers between January and April 2020. A Girl and A Gun surveyed more than 6,000 members last summer and found that personal protection was the primary reason women were not only purchasing guns but also seeking out training for how to use them.

The pandemic inspired Austin-area resident Dawn Holmes to get a license to carry a concealed weapon last July. (Dawn Holmes)

Ongoing concerns

Cargill listed a series of events that could send gun sales shooting up even further. When a 20-hour manhunt ensued for a former Travis County sheriff's deputy that shot and killed three people in mid-April, it may have sent Austinites to gun stores. "Whenever they see something like that on the news, people tend to go to stores and say, 'Hey, I need to think about protecting my family,'" Cargill said.

Rising violent crime may have a similar effect. There have been 33 homicides in Austin so far this year, nearly double the number that had occurred by this time last year and closer to triple the number in 2019.

There's also legislation. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will likely sign a bill allowing permitless carry, although Cargill doesn't anticipate this will impact gun sales. But federal gun control measures would, he said. After a mass shooting in San Jose, California, last month—the 244th in the U.S. this year—President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

"When you get gun rights, that doesn't drive sales," Cargill said. "When you lose gun rights, that drives sales."


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