As of early October, Connecticut residents had already bought more guns in 2020 than they had in the entire previous year, according to state statistics.
The firearms unit of the Connecticut State Police had already processed 127,554 gun sales by Oct. 5. The unit processed 126,456 during 2019. With nearly three months left in the year, state residents are on track to far outpace last year.
The trend is not exclusive to Connecticut. In fact, the numbers mirror national statistics. The FBI tracks the number of firearm background checks processed through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Although background checks are not a one-to-one representation of guns sold, they are a pretty good indicator of the number of guns people attempted to buy.
By the end of September, the number of background checks in 2020 had already surpassed 28 million, the total number processed in 2019. Given that 2019 was the highest year on record, the feds have already run more firearm background checks in 2020 than any year since they started publishing statistics in 1998.
Here in Connecticut, the increased sales coupled with supply chain interruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic have led to a shortage of supplies of firearms and ammunition and an increase in their cost. Tim McGalvin, a purchasing manager at Delta Arsenal in Wallingford, said the year has been “unprecedented.”
“There was a lot of panic buying. It was just one event after the other. Each successive event in America just kept draining the supply. Then with companies not being open, there’s virtually nothing out there in terms of firearms, ammo, nothing,” he said.
Between the volume of sales and the shortage of supply, the events of 2020 have likely had a bigger impact on the gun industry in Connecticut than other sales-driving events like the 2013 gun law passed in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and a jump in sales before the 2016 presidential election, McGalvin said. During previous sales spikes, Connecticut gun sellers often could draw on supply from other states.
This year, the impact has been nationwide and looks likely to continue for the foreseeable future. A heated presidential election, civil unrest, and calls to defund the police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd are all likely to keep driving demand for firearms.
“Even with the ban from Sandy Hook, we were still able to draw stuff from across the country. It wasn’t like the whole U.S. was having this shortage. Now it is nationwide. That’s why it’s so bad right now,” McGalvin said.
During a legislative hearing last week, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection Commissioner James Rovella said the agency has seen a “big uptick” in gun requests and acknowledged there have been some delays in the processing of gun sales and gun permit applications. He said the firearms unit that handles gun sales and permits is not staffed to handle the increase.
“The firearm unit over there, at its heyday many years ago, had quite a few more people in there and we’re struggling to keep up with the volume this year,” Rovella told lawmakers.
According to DESPP, state police have processed 10,892 new pistol permit applications so far this year. In 2019, they processed 14,042.
Michael P. Lawlor, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven and former co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, noted that the process of applying for gun permits was halted for much of the year because the pandemic prevented police from collecting the necessary fingerprint impressions from applicants.
Connecticut’s firearms laws prevent residents from “impulse” buying guns like they can in many other states, Lawlor said. He said much of this year’s spike can likely be attributed to existing gun owners “loading up” on more guns.
“You have to jump through quite a few hoops to do that here, so it slows down this process of deciding that you want to own a gun,” he said. “To the extent that you see a surge, it’s going to be people who already have guns buying more guns.”
McGalvin at Delta Arsenal said he has had to turn away many potential buyers this year who either do not have permits or have not completed the process of getting a permit.
“They get pretty bent when you tell them ‘Hey, I can’t sell you anything because you don’t have a permit.’ They’re like, ‘What do you mean?’ Well, you kinda let your Second Amendment rights go by the wayside and now, when it matters, you can’t get anything,” he said. “It’s not that easy to just walk into a gun store and buy a gun.”