Stores, FBI database show gun sales up since virus in Nevada
LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas gun stores that have remained open while other businesses were ordered closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, have reported a spike in sales in recent weeks, especially from first-time gun owners, a newspaper found.
The FBI processed more than 22,200 firearm background checks from Nevadans in March through the bureau’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, more than double the average number of background checks conducted monthly on Nevadans last year, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
While the numbers do not reflect all firearm sales in Nevada, they offer a glimpse at a rush to purchase guns and ammunition amid the spread of the virus causing the COVID-19 respiratory illness. Nationally, the FBI processed nearly 1.2 million firearms background checks during the week of March 16-22, an all-time high since the system launched in November 1998.
In Las Vegas, the spike in gun sales has not correlated with increases in violent crime, police Officer Aden OcampoGomez told the newspaper. Violent crime including domestic violence and aggravated assault have gone down since mid-March, OcampoGomez said, along with property crime.
However, shooting reports went up 35% in the second half of the month compared with the first half, OcampoGomez said. The tally includes gunshots detected by “shot-spotter” locator technology as well as calls about gunshots or gun violence.
The increased demand for guns has created supply shortages in some stores, said Genghis Cohen, owner of Machine Gun Vegas.
“My understanding is it’s almost impossible to buy ammunition right now if you can find it. It’s very, very difficult to buy guns right now,” Cohen said. “The good thing is, it doesn’t look like there are massive amounts of social unrest, which is what everyone I think was initially buying guns for.”
Elite Firearms Vegas saw a plateau in sales solely due to diminished inventory, and employee Joe Potter said most customers since the pandemic began have been first-time gun owners.
The spike in shooting reports alarms Stephanie Pizzoferrato, spokeswoman for Moms Demand Action Nevada, a nonprofit that advocates for gun safety and reduced gun violence, and a self-described gun violence survivor. Her daughter was fatally struck by a ricocheting bullet in 2011 while sitting in a car with family members outside shooting on public land in the Las Vegas area. The origin of the fatal shot was not determined.
“Our focus right now is on educating our friends, our family and our contacts on social media about securing their firearms properly so that we prevent unintentional shootings by children or by teen suicide,” Pizzoferrato said.
She stressed that gun owners should store weapons and ammunition separately, and secure firearms with a cable lock to reduce the risk of accidental shootings and suicides.
Some gun shops have taken steps to train new gun owners in firearm safety.
Range 702 has offered free one-on-one training courses by appointment, said Kris Chanski, chief store operating officer. Courses typically cost $50 per session. Although lessons are private in order to encourage social distancing, they still include physical contact with an instructor.
Machine Gun Vegas suspended similar one-on-one training out of concern for employees’ health, Cohen said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people maintain at least a 6-foot (1.8 meter) distance from those outside their household to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus.
Elite Firearms Vegas limits the number of customers in the store and encourages them to keep a 6-foot distance.
“If we get more than two or three people in here, we make them wait outside,” Potter said.
Some gun stores and ranges such as the public Clark County Shooting Complex have voluntarily stopped operations, but they cannot be forced to close.
State law prohibits the governor from using emergency powers to restrict “lawful possession, transfer, sale, carrying, storage, display or use of” firearms and ammunition.
Chanski said she agreed with the law.
“I believe being able to protect myself and my family is essential, and I am glad the government agrees,” she said.