I-TEAM: Social unrest, virus fears fuel skyrocketing gun sales in 2020

Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 4:52 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - With 2020 in the rearview, something else is coming into focus: skyrocketing gun sales.

The I-Team found a record number of guns were sold in 2020.

To get a better focus on this data, let’s start our story with a focus on Patty Morningstar.

Patty is more than just comfortable shooting a gun, She’s confident.

“First time I shot was a bull’s eye,” Patty said with a laugh.

“I got her a little .22 revolver because I had a 9mm and there’s a kick to it,” Patty’s husband, Bill Morningstar, said.

Shooting isn’t new to Bill, who retired after decades in the Army -- decades of handling a gun. But he encouraged his wife to get a gun last year, making her one of hundreds of thousands of new gun owners during 2020 -- a year that saw a pandemic, social unrest, protests, and an election.

“My business increased threefold during that time,” local firearms instructor Gary Slater said.

Slater said he’s “never” seen anything like this before.

“It’s just because people were scared, they were worried,” Slater said. “And so, I had this full spectrum of people to come in and go, ‘Hey, I need training.’ Now, I’ve trained people as old as their late 80′s. And I train youngsters as young as seven.”

The I-Team examined FBI records to analyze just how much gun sales soared in 2020. We found 5 of the top 10 days for criminal background checks, which are required to purchase a gun from a federal firearms dealer, were in the week leading up to the shutdown from the pandemic.

The number one day in history is now March 20, 2020 with more than 210,000 background checks in a single day. Four other days that same week, March 17, 18, 19, and 21 all made the top 10 list for days in U.S. history.

Arthur Peralta is the special agent in charge of the Atlanta Field Division of the ATF, the federal agency that regulates the gun industry. We asked him if those five consecutive days surprised him.

“I would have to say yes and no,” Peralta said.

“Typically we see gun sales go up during election year, things like that. And I think that, you know, during the beginning of this pandemic, it was so uncertain.”

Special Agent Peralta says the public shouldn’t tie gun sales to a potential rise in crime, noting guns used in crimes are often stolen and not purchased legally.

“Most responsible gun owners will keep their guns for their entire lifetime,” Peralta said.

For Slater, it’s the clients he usually doesn’t see to train on firearms that make 2020 stand out the most.

“I started seeing clients that showed up that would tell me, I hate guns,” Slater said. “I’ve had clients show up that fired one shot and busted out crying because so there it was against their ideology or their political leanings. But yet they came and stayed for training. So I did see it go across the conservative and the maybe not-so conservative movement.”

Slater tells me that includes doctors and nurses and other professions impacted by COVID-19.

The I-Team found gun sales impact us locally in another way, too. The economy. The National Shooting Sports Foundation released an industry report on 2020. We found Georgia made the top 10 list for states with the biggest economic output from the gun industry, and also the top 10 for jobs tied to the firearms and ammunition industry with 4,435 direct jobs and more than 2,300 other jobs linked to suppliers.

The report notes recent gun sales have been “nothing short of remarkable.” But with that comes responsibility, says Special Agent Peralta.

“The number one thing that I always talk about is, make sure you secure weapon, you know, make sure you put a lock on that gun or make sure that you put it in a safe,” Peralta said.

Slater says take a gun class and get familiar with the weapon just like Patty Morningstar. She’s come a long way in four short months.

Since there are so many new gun owners these days, the ATF says there is another safety tip that sounds obvious but apparently, it’s not. It’s to know exactly what type of gun you have. Write down the make, the model, the caliber, and most importantly, write down the serial number of that gun and maybe even take a picture of it for your records.

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