Just like we did on toilet paper. Guns and toilet paper to see us through a pandemic — a guy probably could’ve won some bets if he’d made that prediction at the start of this.
The New York Times reported that Americans bought about 2 million firearms in March, the second highest monthly total on record. It trailed only January 2013, following Democratic President Barack Obama’s re-election and the mass shooting at Sandy Hook.
The run on guns is easy enough to figure out when politics are involved. Many gun owners get nervous that Democratic politicians will pass restrictive legislation to limit the ability to purchase certain types of firearms. And Republicans, with their friends at the National Rifle Association, were particularly masterful at demonizing Obama.
In the midst of fighting a pandemic, though? What gives?
One Fargo gun shop manager is as confused as anybody.
“It’s a stupid craze,” says Michael Oldham, manager at popular Bill’s Gun Shop along I-29 in north Fargo. “It really is. You have people saying, ‘The country is going to shut down. I’m going to buy a gun.’ I guess people were nervous about what was going to happen. Maybe they thought they were going to have to defend their home against people trying to break in.
“Apparently they think people are going to try to steal their toilet paper. I don’t know.”
Academics who study such things say Americans likely feared civil unrest as we navigated exactly what a coronavirus shutdown would look like.
“I suppose people were concerned about safety, afraid of the unknown,” Oldham agreed. “It’s just crazy that something like this would spur people to buy a firearm. If you didn’t have a need for a gun before, you probably don’t have the need for one now.”
He was one of the few gun retailers in town willing to talk about sales. Scheels, Runnings and The Outdoorsman all declined, citing company policy. A couple of other small custom gunsmith shops didn’t return calls.
Oldham said the rush hit two weeks ago, when pandemic measures were still foggy. Make no mistake, it was good for Bill’s Gun Shop and Range so Oldham isn’t complaining.
“Astronomical,” he said of sales. “We had one day, Friday the 27th, when our sales were the same as they’d be for a month.”
You did a month’s worth of sales in one day?
“One day,” Oldham said.
Shane Krogstad, owner of Dakota Precision Arms in southwest Fargo, isn’t a retailer, but as a licensed gun dealer he assists in transferring firearms purchased online. A buyer will purchase a gun online with a credit card, but the law requires it be shipped to a licensed dealer, who will conduct the required background check and complete the paperwork. The dealer receives a transfer fee for doing the work.
He saw the same spike as Bill’s, and the same drop.
“Two weeks ago it was absolutely crazy as far as transfers coming in. I’d never seen anything like it,” Krogstad said. “Then by the middle of last week, it stopped. It went from craziness to crickets.
“People maybe figured out what this was all about in terms of what was going to be shut down, but I also think we started to see more layoffs. Maybe the original thinking was, ‘Am I able to protect my family?’ That might’ve turned to, ‘Am I going to be able to feed my family?'”
Krogstad was a little more understanding of the enthusiasm for pandemic-induced gun buying than was Oldham, although he still wondered why people weren’t more concerned about their home’s electricity and water in the event of society deteriorating.
“I guess the virus was more of a scare and an unknown and people reacted to that. ‘Am I going to be able to defend myself because somebody is coming for my food?'” Krogstad said. “Maybe the original thinking was it was going to be like the Wild West or something.”
Let the history books show that during the Pandemic of 2020, America tried to conquer a new frontier with guns and toilet paper.