Since entering nursing school a few years ago, Jamie McConville had toyed with the idea of purchasing her first handgun. The Bucks County native, and part-time wellness coordinator at The Joint Chiropractic, says her decision to purchase a Beretta M1951 pistol was cemented by the result of November’s presidential election. “I didn’t want the change of presidency to prevent me from getting a gun. All the anti-police rhetoric really pushed me over the edge.”
Kayonna Dickson, a Philadelphia Parking Enforcement Officer, is another first-time carrier. She bought her handgun this week in response to the storming of the U.S. Capitol building and her fear of ongoing civil unrest. “There was just too much going on in the world, and I live at home by myself.”
McConville and Dickson are not alone. Legions of other first-time buyers are adding to record sales in the gun industry both across the country and the commonwealth. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) estimates 8.4 million people bought a firearm for the first time last year, 40 percent of them women.
Additionally, Pennsylvania State Police reports that October through December was the busiest quarter in the 22-year history of state’s Instant Check System, with the agency performing more than 420,000 firearm license background checks. The previous record — more than 400,000 — was set the previous quarter, July through September.
Gun license-to-carry permits have seen a corresponding spike across Delaware Valley. According to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, permits have increased by more than 30 percent compared to 2019. Roughly the same increase was seen in Chester County as well.
Dr.Crystal Reeck, a professor at Temple University, says uncertainty from the pandemic coupled with political strife and a tenuous economy have produced fear and anxiety. “People are trying to minimize these uncertainties, and I think people wanting to arm themselves is one of the ways people are trying to regain that sense of psychological safety.”
The owner of Treeline Sports, Inc. in MontCo says sales at his shop have ballooned by about 75 percent since March. Jeff — who declined to give his last name — says his new customers have expressed fear for their families’ safety. “I think a lot of it stems from the rioting, threats of defunding the police, as well as the threat of losing their Second Amendment rights. It’s scared a lot of good people.”
The overwhelming demand has been a boon for shops like Treeline and subsequently caused a shortage of inventory. “There’s a huge shortage of ammunition across the board,” says Jeff. “All calibers, as well as manufacturers, have been difficult to get. We went from, ‘What do you want’ to ‘Here’s what I have, do you want it?’ So it’s a total flip on what’s available.”
But the notion that increased gun sales will mitigate further violence is not rooted in the evidence, one gun-control advocate argues.
“Data doesn’t show more guns make us safe. It shows that more guns put us more at risk. Whether you’re talking about suicide, unintentional shootings, or homicide. No other advanced country lives with this kind of gun violence,” says Melissa Carden, volunteer leader for the Pennsylvania State Chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America.
“Most people are responsible gun owners, but it’s really important to know the risks and to mitigate those risks. Safe storage does that. There are approximately 4.6 million children in America who live in a home with an unlocked, loaded gun.”
Cam Edwards, editor of the pro-Second-Amendment website BearingArms.com, doesn’t agree.
“Unfortunately, so-called gun safety groups like Moms Demand Action define gun safety as ‘don’t own a gun,’ which doesn’t seem to be popular advice these days,” Edwards said. “Not only have we seen record-setting gun sales, but concealed carry applications are backlogged for months in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia thanks to the high demand from Pennsylvanians embracing their Second Amendment rights. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen attempts to shut down Philadelphia P.D.’s Gun Permit Unit, placing the right to carry on hold for thousands of residents even as homicides and shootings are soaring. Politicians across the state should be working to ensure that residents choosing to exercise their right to keep and bear arms can do so without needless burdens or delays.”
Although he’s not a licensed NRA instructor, Jeff emphasizes the importance of gun safety for new carriers. “Before they walk out of the store we make sure they know how to safely point the firearm. We drill in their head to treat every gun as though it’s loaded. We go over the functionality of the firearm and then we tell them to practice at the range, and we offer them to bring the gun back to teach them how to clean it at no charge.
“There have been a tremendous amount of new people to our industry and I think it’s a positive thing.”