A Call to Arms

Several industries have thrived during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of which is the firearm business. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), The Firearm Industry Trade Association statistics state that 12.1 million background checks have been performed in 2020 through late July, inching toward the record 15 million in 2016. Gun sales have spiked due to COVID-19 and they have also increased due to the riots and looting following the tragic death of George Floyd in May. Historical trends show that firearm sales always increase in election years as well.

Eighty-seven percent of retailers have seen increases in gun sales, up 95 percent from 2019 while 92 percent have seen a major uptick in ammunition sales, which are up 139 percent compared to the first half of 2019. Those numbers concern Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense, an Austin-based organization advocating for common sense, evidence-based policies to reduce gun injuries and deaths. “We’re not anti-gun, we’re pro-safety,” Ms. Switzer said. “One problem we have within Texas is easy access to firearms for people who really shouldn’t have access. Whenever there’s a conflict going on and you add firearms to the mix, the danger is heightened.”

NSSF estimates 40 percent of 2020 firearm purchasers are first-time owners. Some might infer that many of them are buying without receiving proper training on safety and usage of the weapon. However, gun ranges around Dallas-Fort Worth and the country report many classes being sold out months in advance, including those to obtain License to Carry (LTC) certifications. “We are currently teaching Texas LTC classes at a furious pace, averaging 65 to 70 students for standard in-person classes a week,” said Gregory Taggart, director of education and training for Texas Legends Gun Range and Training Center in Allen. “We have also been teaching the legally required one-hour of classroom instruction plus Handgun Proficiency Test that online class students must pass to about 20-25 students a week.”

As gun sales have surged, ammunition sales have increased accordingly, often leading to shortages of many calibers. For Mark Oliva, NSSF’s director of public affairs, this scarcity has simple causes. “It’s not a supply issue,” Mr. Oliva said. “There’s plenty of supply to make ammunition, it’s a demand issue because you’ve got a lot more people buying guns right now, wanting to buy ammo and making sure they know how to use their firearm correctly and safely.”

At Home on the Range

Not only have more firearms been sold, but local gun ranges are also thriving as more citizens seek safe places to shoot. The Frisco Gun Club, which opened in 2013, features 40 lanes and has been dubbed “the nation’s premier shooting range.” Other local facilities include Bullet Trap, Inc. in Plano, which opened in 1989, RifleGear, which earlier this year opened a range/retail store facility in The Colony, Grapevine’s Texas Gun Experience and the Texas Legends Gun Range in Allen, both of which opened in 2019.

Eagle Gun Range has locations in Lewisville (which opened in 2012) and Farmers Branch (2017) and is an enterprise with local ties. Former Frisco city councilman and longtime local resident, David Prince, is a former CPA and Eagle’s owner who got into the gun business at the behest of his wife, Nancy, after they mutually agreed not to enter the restaurant business. “I can’t tell you the number of people coming in who have never touched a gun before. I would say a good 30-40 percent of people who are buying firearms don’t have any experience,” Mr. Prince said. “Especially back in March when COVID-19 hit, I bet it was 80 percent that had never used a firearm. That’s the reason I fought so hard to become an essential business for COVID-19 purposes because they needed a place to practice. People were coming in and buying firearms with no experience and it scared me to death.” Mr. Prince estimates he’s added 10 classes per month during the pandemic and could realistically double that number. Since March, attendance for Eagle’s LTC classes has increased by 300 percent. 

While the increased firearm sales have been a nice bonus, seeing more people at his two facilities learn how to use their guns safely and their eagerness to learn is exactly why he entered this business in the first place. “Our primary goal is safety and training,” Mr. Prince said. “We’re just glad we’re here to give them the ability to find a good, safe, clean place to learn how to shoot. We don’t like just selling a firearm and pushing them out the door. We want them to be able to practice. I built this as a range; I didn’t build this as a store. A range is primary for us and practice is primary. You can buy a firearm anywhere, but you can’t practice in a safe environment everywhere.”

A Growing Demographic

Naysayers have dismissed this surge in sales as merely being due to “old white men,” who these misguided souls think are still the only demographic that purchases guns. However, this cannot be more inaccurate. In fact, there has been a 58.2 percent increase in African American gun buyers since March. Additionally, many first-time buyers in 2020 are female. According to NSSF, in 2003 just 13 percent of women owned firearms. That number in 2020 has nearly doubled to 25 percent. One-quarter of women gun owners consider firearms essential for self-protection while 70 percent deem them essential for personal freedom.

“We built a clean, big restroom for the women and it’s paid off. We get hundreds of women every week, mostly on Tuesday for Ladies’ Day,” Mr. Prince said. “We are really turning into a great place for women to learn how to shoot and hone their skills. It’s a great co-ed recreational sport. It’s something the whole family can enjoy, especially in an air-conditioned environment. That was our biggest priority, to provide a place for children and women to feel comfortable.”

Frisco resident and gun enthusiast, Trevor Stringer, is a frequent shooter at Eagle Gun Range and he has noticed many more female shooters at the range and becoming interested in firearms, something he considers a big positive. “I’ve seen more women wanting to carry than I’ve ever even heard before,” Mr. Stringer said. “I have a couple of guys [I know from personal training] that are former military that are training their women for self-defense with weapons.”

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans have exercised this constitutional right to keep and bear arms by purchasing guns, ammunition and heading to ranges to get instruction and become familiar with their firearms. Surging gun sales are nothing new in an election year, but factor in the pandemic and recent civil unrest in major cities, more Americans want to feel safe and see buying firearms as a primary way to accomplish that goal. There’s nothing at all political about that.