When single mom Denise Thurston prepared to drive with her young son from her Austin-area home through Houston in June, just as anti-brutality protests were boiling over, she was glad she had just bought a handgun.
Thurston, 45, worried that something like a highway shutdown would leave them vulnerable to protests, or counter protests, or non-protest opportunists who saw a woman and child stuck in an immobile car as easy targets.
"I'm not a big person," Thurston said. "I need some power behind me somehow, and that was my way of doing it."
A chaotic year
Thurston bought her 9mm Glock pistol and became licensed to carry after the March lockdowns began. Previously a firearms novice, Thurston also now owns an AR-style shotgun she purchased this summer for home protection.
She is among hundreds of thousands of Texans whose pandemic-era gun purchases broke state and national records.
Those at ground zero for this phenomenon—trainers, retailers and students—say a wave of fear ushered in by societal destabilization in March, social unrest in May and police walkouts in June have driven the purchases both by newbies and by more experienced owners.
"It shows how people are not trusting their government, they're not trusting what's going on or the information they're receiving, and so they want to take their personal protection into their own hands," said Michael Cargill, owner of Central Texas Gun Works in Austin.
As a result, Texas gun owners have filled up classes, emptied ammo shelves, and swamped gun stores and manufacturers.
"It did heighten my concerns, and it definitely prompted me to get more aggressive with getting comfortable with my gun and to start carrying, absolutely," said Austin-area resident Dawn Holmes, who got her license to carry last week.
In Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted 121,926 background checks for handguns in June, more than three times the number the same month last year.
The number was even higher in March, right after the pandemic lockdowns began, and the FBI warned that some state shutdowns threatened to reduce the staff available for background checks on new sales and that the surge would create a backlog that could further delay new gun sales from being approved. Checks for Texans seeking to purchase handguns soared from 60,512 in February to 147,714 in March.
That number alone was more than double the checks that took place in December—the highest number of last year—and more than triple the monthly average for 2019.
Nationally, the FBI said they had done some 3.9 million background checks in June, the highest monthly total on record.
"It's based on a variety of reasons, but they're afraid," said instructor Tina Maldonado, who works with the local shooting league A Girl And A Gun, and who has more than doubled the amount of time she spends on the range with students since the lockdowns began. "Most of them are families, or parents whose spouses travel a lot, and they just decided they need to protect themselves."
Cargill said he has seen lines out the door and double the number of students since March 13, what he calls "D-Day," the weekend the first wave of new purchases hit.
Cargill predicts another increase around the election. Supporters of President Donald Trump are worried about their gun rights if Democrat Joe Biden wins, he said, and African Americans he's spoken to are worried about the empowerment of white supremacy and the growth of racism if Trump gets re-elected.
"I ask people questions, when they come in the store, to see where their heads are at," Cargill said. "Everyone should just take a deep breath and settle down a little bit. We need to be a lot nicer to each other. Worry about controlling yourself instead of controlling someone else."
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- San Marcos favorite Industry Burger opens "mid-October" on E. 5th, featuring "low key healthy" Texas fare.
- Still Austin Whiskey Co. introduces "The Artist," its new rye whiskey.
- Domain NORTHSIDE favorites Bakery Lorraine, Grimaldi's Pizzeria, Jeni's Ice Cream and Sprinkles released their fall flavors.
- Cinnaholic at The Arboretum opens Friday, October 14, serving "create your own" cinnamon rolls and other sweet treats.
- San Francisco's Marufuku Ramen opens next Wednesday, October 12, in the Mueller District.
- Carpenter Hotel announces its popup food truck, Lil Carpenter, open Fri-Sun both ACL weekends, serving what you want, early to late, coffee to donuts, to dogs/burgers/fries/beer.
With major entertainment events slated for October, the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is gearing up for a busy month.
Artists and music lovers are set to pack into Zilker Park for The Austin City Limits Music Festival in the coming two weekends. Following that, Formula One will bring racing fans to the Circuit of the Americas.
For those two events, the airport is anticipating high passenger days with 30,000 or more people departing flights.
ABIA recommends arriving at least two and a half hours in advance for domestic flights on those days. For ACL, it's expected on both Sundays of the festival along with the Monday and Tuesday after. The F1-driven high passenger days are expected on Oct. 20-21 and Oct. 23-26.
\u201c#AustinCityLimits visitors, you\u2019re in for a weird and wild ride \ud83e\udd18\u262e\ufe0f \n\nFlying in or out of our airport? We got firm and fun tips for you: https://t.co/RawVRalOXN\u201d— Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) (@Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)) 1664894083
F1, especially, could draw in loads of travelers as the three-day event saw 400,000 attendees last year. ABIA warns that highways leading to the airport may see even higher traffic than usual around the event and that travelers should plan their route accordingly.
Bailey Grimmett, a spokesperson for ABIA, said travel numbers come in 24 hours in advance. So, it's hard to predict if the airport will see travel volumes at the same levels that have happened around previous F1 races or if it'll top ACL's flight traffic.
Still, she says historical knowledge points to a chance for it.
“We've had that Monday after F1 break the record for single busiest in airport history," Grimmett said. "So context clues I would say yes, but I can't confirm that. But the historical background points to that."
In anticipation of the high volume of flyers, the airport received additional TSA officers for security screening through the end of October. To prepare even further, the Department of Aviation and partners hosted a job showcase and hiring fair to address the continued labor shortage the airport has experienced.
Relief from hectic travel days is on the horizon with November likely to see a slowdown.
"I don't anticipate it will be as busy as October just because we don't have as many events going on," Grimmett said. "Thanksgiving is kind of our primary holiday that we see a lot of passengers coming in and out of the airport."