Gun sales have increased on a national, state and local level during the pandemic, evidence suggests.

COVID-19 precipitated a trend of rising gun sales. The Trace, a newsroom devoted to gun-related news, has tracked the rise in gun purchases over the past decade and shows a surge following the Sandy Hook shooting, at the beginning of 2013.

The pace of sales has increased of late. According to The Trace, sales rose 18 percent in the first quarter of the year, compared to the first quarter of 2020.

In California, handgun sales increased 65.5 percent, and the sales of long guns 45.9 percent, in 2020. A record 39.7 million background checks were received by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

There is reason to believe that these trends are occurring on a local level. During the pandemic, customers braved long lines at gun stores throughout the county. John Parkin, owner of Coyote Point Armory in Burlingame, said gun sales have been up around 60 percent on average. Someone who answered the phone at City Arms, Pacifica’s long gun retailer, declined to answer questions for this story.

The pandemic also brought an increase in first-time gun buyers. The firearms industry’s trade association reported that millions of Americans bought their first-ever gun over the past year. A study out of Northeastern University and the Harvard Injury Control Research Center revealed that about a fifth of all gun purchases last year were by Americans buying them for the first time.

This seemed to be a trend in San Mateo County as well. Parkin relayed that around 85 percent of his customers were first-time buyers. Parkin speculated that uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, continued debate over state and local gun laws and talk about police reform contributed to the increase in sales in the area.

“People see what's going on and they hear ‘defund the police’ and they are doing what they have to do to protect themselves,” said Parkin. “They are coming to the realization that police departments are not there to save us at the moment we need to be saved.”

According to Parkin, guns of all varieties have been in high demand in the county. He said fears that further restrictions on certain firearms has increased demand.

“Just like if they were gonna take Snickers bars off the shelf, people are gonna run out and buy all the Snickers they can before they can't do it anymore,” said Parkin.

Gun safety regulations have been at the forefront of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors’ discussions. Supervisor Don Horsley, who co-sponsored a recent ordinance enforcing stricter licensing and security restrictions in the county’s unincorporated areas, said that the board is eyeing further measures to promote gun safety.

“We plan to discuss all of the legislation available that allows us to take guns away from people who are dangerous,” said Horsley.

The county will discuss “red flag” laws that expand gun violence restraining orders. Such laws allow individuals to petition the court to prohibit someone from owning a firearm if that person might use it to hurt themselves or others.

Horsley raised concerns about the potentially deadly intersection of mental health and the increased circulation of firearms during the pandemic.

“People may have a gun, and are stuck at home without mental stimulation, sometimes without other people around,” said Horsley. 

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