Ralph Charette, 71, said he bought a rifle and ammunition on Saturday to protect himself and his family as a wave of coronavirus panic sweeps across the country.
Charette, a military veteran, spent $1,500 at a gun shop in Germantown, Wisconsin, after encountering aggressive shoppers and empty shelves at local grocery stores.
Now, if looters come knocking, he’ll be ready, he said.
“There’s so much uncertainty and paranoia but you’ve got to protect your own,” Charette said.
Charette is among a growing wave of Americans who are going to retailers, pawnshops and online to purchase guns and ammunition in the wake of COVID-19, which had killed more than 60 people in the U.S. as of Saturday afternoon.
As hysteria surrounding the illness drives some to stockpile groceries and toilet paper in case they’re quarantined, it’s also causing many to worry about a shortage of gun supplies, which is driving up demand and leading to long lines at suppliers.
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Lengthy lines formed outside the Martin Retting Guns store in Culver City, California, on Sunday morning, before the store opened. People said the line Saturday was so long, extending around the block, so they decided to come back and try again.
Many said they were looking for extra protection, primarily ammo, in case the virus shuts down most businesses.
The trend continued outside Turner’s Outdoorsman store in Torrance, California, before opening.
“People are scared,” said Drew Plotkin of Los Angeles. “There’s a lot of panic in the world and people want to be protected for the worst-case scenario.”
In New Castle, Delaware, Emily Ken, 22, bought ammunition this weekend for her 9mm handgun before “doomsday preppers” could buy up all the supply, she said.
Ken went to a Dick’s Sporting Goods store where she said one of the workers told her that everywhere else in the area was sold out.
“It’s better to be prepared than to not be prepared,” Ken said. “I already stocked up on food. Ammo was just the next step.”
As frenzied stockpiling stripped gun specialty stores of inventory, more people also went online to order gun supplies in recent weeks. Online ammunition retailer Ammo.com witnessed an exponential increase in sales since late February, which the company attributes to public worry surrounding coronavirus.
“We know certain things impact ammo sales, mostly political events or economic instability when people feel their rights may end up infringed, but this is our first experience with a virus leading to such a boost in sales,” said Alex Horsman, the marketing manager at Ammo.com in a statement.
The website reported a 68% spike in sales between mid-February and early March. Online orders were booming most in North Carolina and Georgia. However, ammunition shopping also surged in Florida, which has over 100 confirmed coronavirus cases, and New York, with over 700 cases of the respiratory illness.
Retailers are also limiting how much ammunition people can buy amidst supply shortages.
Greg Reynders, 62, bought 250 rounds of ammunition on Saturday, the most an indoor gun range in St. Louis would allow in the wake of increasing demand.
“They were completely out of the cheaper bulk ammunition,” Reynders said. He also bought a 9mm handgun to protect himself in case someone tries to steal his groceries if there are further supply shortages.
“Right now, local stores have light supplies of toilet paper, water and things like that,” Reynders said. “But if they don’t restock as fast as people want, my main concern is somebody coming up to me as I walk out of Target and trying to take what I purchased.”
Contributing: Jefferson Graham