Customers lined up outside the Green Top Sporting Goods store in Hanover. (copy)

Customers lined up outside the Green Top Sporting Goods store in Hanover County March 20.

Robert Marcus has owned Bob’s Gun Shop in downtown Norfolk, Va., for three decades.

He’s seen firearm sales tick up plenty of times over the years, like when there’s an election coming or there’s some type of social unrest dominating the headlines.

But he’s never seen them skyrocket like they have in recent months.

“It’s incredible,” Marcus said. “There are a lot of extraneous things going on now that have caused guns to become very desirable.”

During the first five months of this year, FBI statistics show the number of criminal background check requests submitted for gun sales in Virginia is up 77% compared to the same time period last year. And that doesn’t even include the past couple of weeks, which Marcus and others said also have been especially busy.

Purchases first began to increase late last year, when Democrats won the majority of Virginia’s legislative seats and vowed to pass more restrictive gun laws, Marcus said. They continued to stay elevated in January when the General Assembly convened in Richmond.

Then in March, the coronavirus pandemic caused many to fear it would lead to civil unrest. Stimulus checks provided by the federal government also made it easier for some to fund their gun purchases.

That’s when Marcus and some other local gun shop workers say sales really went through the roof. The FBI conducted 3.7 million background checks for firearm sales across the country in March, the highest total since it began publishing the data in 1998.

It’s been the angry and sometimes violent protests across the country the past couple weeks that’s spurred the latest surge in sales. Demonstrators are speaking out following the May 25 death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for several minutes.

“A lot of people are really fearful right now,” said Josh Longacher, who helps runs two Superior Pawn and Gun Shops owned by his wife, Amy.

News of some demonstrations ending with violent clashes between police and protesters, as well as vandalism and looting, has led some to worry that police will be too overwhelmed to respond to other emergencies in a timely manner, he said.

Many recent buyers are purchasing their first gun, according to employees at four local stores. Most tend to be interested in weapons best suited for self defense, like handguns and shotguns.

The customers come from just about every age group, race and socioeconomic background, they said.

The increased demand and social distancing guidelines have occasionally led to lines extending outside local gun stores. A couple of Superior Pawn and Gun stores owned by relatives have even shut down for a day or two to try to catch up on paperwork and restock, Longacher said.

“It’s like the perfect storm in the firearm business,” Marcus said, adding that it’s been a challenge to keep the display cases stocked.

Pump-action shotguns have been particularly popular at Superior Pawn and Gun, Longacher said. “They’re sold before they get to the store,” he said.

Marcus has noticed a lot of women coming in. They tend to like small handguns with limited recoil, he said.

Normally at this time of year, gun sales drop off as people start spending more time outside, Longacher said, but that doesn’t appear to be the case this year.

“For the sales to be where they are at this time of year is highly unusual,” he said. “There’s been no letup.”

And with this being a presidential election year, it’s not likely to slow down anytime soon, he said.

Copyright 2020 Tribune Content Agency.

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