Among the things, I am a firearms instructor. Over the last six months, I have heard the same thing over and over. People I would not expect to have an interest in owning a gun have come up to me asking questions about buying, storing, and employing firearms to defend themselves.
These days, I mostly help train police officers. I do armory work on their weapons and help train them in advanced combat shooting. I used to train civilians more. For nearly a decade, I taught classes in high-powered rifle competition. It was precision sport shooting and I taught people to be good enough to land rounds inside of a teacup six football fields away. They have included the young and old, every gender including the non-binary type, every political persuasion, every sexual orientation, former military of both the US and other national armed forces. Some have gone on to win national and international awards, out shooting their former mentor, much to my pride and delight.
Now they come to me via word of mouth. Part of that is probably because I was once the weapons advisor of the television show “Top Shot” for a couple of seasons. Some of it is also cops and former students telling people to talk to me. But some of it is completely random encounters with strangers who, after getting to know me a little, suddenly blurt out something like, “my husband and I are thinking of getting a gun”.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not gung ho when people ask about the subject. The use of deadly force in defense is not something to be taken lightly. That is something you imbue even to police officers when training them; and it is part of their job to get good at surviving a gunfight.
A private citizen who has never had exposure to firearms contemplating one for self-defense usually has me first probing if they have the mental ability to fight at all. I will be blunt. Not everyone does. Some people just are not good enough to stand their ground. Over the years, I have found you have to be honest with them and help them face their limitations. I ask people a series of honest qualifying questions. If they pass the test, then I start discussing guns. I have a long checklist of information to teach. There is a lot to know about just being a responsible gunowner and competent weapons handler. And after that, to build the discipline and skill to win the day in a gunfight against a determined adversary.
If they fail the test, I have a ready to go litany of things they can do to minimize the chances that they will ever need one. But I do also tell them that will in no way help if they draw the unlucky number. I’m pretty blunt about that too.
Here is the thing. Since the advent of COVID-19, more people pass that test. They really do feel that there is a clear and present danger that they need to be ready for. In my view, the combined stresses of a prolonged quarantine, the emergence of social fissures displacing seemingly anyone, and a media that is bombarding people with day after day of violent and scary messaging has taken it’s toll on even the most meek and passive people. In the year 2020, America has raised an army of new gun owners and they are armed to the teeth. That army is behind every blade of grass and it fears a dystopian America where you can be shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong moment, or wearing the wrong t-shirt.
I asked Mark Oliva of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry’s trade association about the number and he reported an explosion of National Instant Check System (NICS) background checks. According to the industry’s research, there have been an average of 1.6 to 1.8 million new NICS checks per month since April 2020. It is estimated that there are over 5 million new gun owners this year. And according to Oliva, that is a fraction of gun purchases because in 25 states, a previously background checked individual or one who possesses a concealed carry permit does not need an additional check to purchase another gun.
What makes these 5 million new gun owners politically significant is that these people are very unlikely to be members of the National Rifle Association. Note that per the self-reporting of the NRA, the association only has 5.7 million paying members. So, this new group of people doubles the number of people with a put their money where their mouth is vested interest in the Second Amendment in the just the last six months. That is is not a small thing and it is clear to me that there is a degree of denial in the media, the lobbyists, and the campaign strategists going on.
Indeed, from the anecdotal encounters I have had, their politics of these new gun owners comes nowhere near the classic profile of a right-wing Trump supporting NRA member. They are mini-van moms and office work commuters who a year ago would have been staunchly in the orphan Democrat category looking warily at the emergence of the progressive left taking over their party. Today, they are shopping for a gun and someone to teach them how to use it.
The gun industry is booming. The NRA’s American Rifleman writer Mark Keefe reported that Colt Firearms Manufacturing, which had exited supplying a portion of its product to the civilian market in September 2019 due to decreasing demand, reintroduced its Model LE6920 to the market in July. The LE6920 is the present-day rendition of the Colt AR-15. It is the semi-automatic version of the U.S. Military’s M-4 Carbine.
In other anecdotes, it seems like everyone is looking for striker fired 9mm handgun. It is not uncommon when perusing social media sites like Facebook to see people looking to buy a gun lamenting the lack of selection in gun stores. More seasoned gun owners tell these people that the time to be picky about make, model, and caliber for what gun you buy was over about four months ago. It is a take what you can get and count yourself lucky you got something kind of time.
Ammunition is also in short supply and price gouging is evident as people search for more effective hollow point ammunition because it is better for use in self-defense. They are not shopping for plinking ammo. They are thinking about how they will handle confrontations on their doorsteps. People I have asked in the ammunition manufacturing business universally report the same thing. The presses are running at full speed and their future production is spoken for until 2021.
How does that figure into the calculus of the November election? Probably not well for the party calling for gun control.
This is part of a series of editorials looking at issues off the narrative that are important for Americans to ponder as we prepare to vote in November. Prior articles include,
“Decision 2020: How Would Cannabis Policy Evolve Over the Next Four Years Under Trump or Biden?”