Firearm Sales Increase Drastically Amid Pandemic, Civil Unrest

Editor’s note: In the following “Chicago Tonight” video, we incorrectly identified the number of guns sold in the U.S. since March. That figure is 15.3 million before adjusting for seasonal changes, according to an analysis of FBI data from The Trace.

Firearm sales have drastically increased in 2020.

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In October alone, Americans purchased an estimated 1.92 million guns. That’s up 67% from last October, according to an analysis of FBI data by the Trace, a nonprofit news organization that covers guns in the U.S.

In Illinois, gun sales were up an estimated 59% in October 2020 compared to October 2019. 

Mass tragedies and elections typically prompt an increase in firearm sales in the U.S.

This year, the pandemic is also at play.

“We are certainly seeing that this is related to our anxiety,” said Alexandra Filindra, an associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies gun policy. “People are feeling that they have no control over the course of their lives. The pandemic is incredibly scary. The purchase of firearms provides a sense of security, not only in the physical sense but also in terms of the psychological sense, that you bring some control over some very difficult to control situations like the pandemic.” 

Add to that the recent civil unrest and uncertainty about the election, and more people are turning to guns as a solution, she said. Filidra said it’s not only conservatives who are purchasing guns, but also liberals. 

This surge in gun buying is different than past surges because it’s more sustained, said Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Range in Des Plaines. Everything that comes into his store goes out, from firearms to ammunition. “If we had more, we’d sell more,” he said.

This year is also different because many of his customers’ purchases are related to self defense, particularly at home, rather than concealed carry. 

“It’s different today than it has been … during these buying surges in the past,” Eldridge said. “Those have typically been driven by politics. If this candidate gets elected, they’ll make this illegal and confiscate them. It was fear of adverse legislative outcomes. This is much more fear for personal safety based on what we’re hearing.”

A survey from the National Shooting Sports Foundation found that in the first six months of 2020, retailers saw the greatest increase in sales to Black customers, up 58.2%. More women are also purchasing guns this year. 

“Growth for all of the people joining, whether its NAAGA or The 761st Gun Club, is outstanding,” said Kourtney Redmond, president of the The 761st Gun Club, the Chicago Chapter of the National African American Gun Association (NAAGA). The Chicago chapter has increased from roughly 200 members to around 300 this year, he said. 

“The increase in the African American community with firearms has come with the recent uncivil rest,” Redmond said. “With the riots that happened downtown, with two riots, people are seeing more need to protect themselves. If the police are bogged down with controlling a riot, nine times out of 10 they’re not gonna be there to protect you.” 

In Illinois, this year's rise in gun sales isn't necessarily tied to first-time gun owners. The wait time for a firearm owners identification card (FOID) has also drastically increased, Eldridge said. While the Illinois State Police is supposed to approve or deny FOID card applications within 30 days, the wait time is well over 100 days, he said. 

As the country prepares for a contentious election, some are concerned about the potential for civil unrest. 

Filindra hopes Americans come together to overcome differences rather than resort to violence. 

“Right now we are undergoing a really difficult period in terms of people being on edge overall,” Filindra said. “The data don’t look like the country overall is becoming more dangerous in terms of crime. We are seeing political anxiety rising and we need to remember in this current climate that … as Americans we have a lot of ways to resolve our problems and overcome political disappointments and not resort to violence the way that we have seen in the past several months.”

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