Curt Sebastian says he wasn’t expecting a rush of customers but, as a small business owner, he'll take it. He says fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus have more than doubled sales at his two Northern Virginia gun stores in the past few weeks.
"We had no choice but to increase staff at both locations," Sebastian said. "It's wide open, it's crazy right now.”
He says there aren't lines out the door, as reported in other parts of the country, but customers have been flocking to his Fredericksburg and Stafford stores at a steady pace.
“It's just a lot steadier than what we would normally see this time of year," Sebastian said. “A lot of guns, a lot of ammo, you know, a lot of a lot of people just stocking up.”
The News 4 I-Team requested statewide data since the beginning of March and found 80,228 request for the month — up 25% from February and up 75% over March 2019.
The I-Team 3,753 requests on Saturday, March 7, the very day Virginia announced its first COVID-19 case. In the 10 days that followed, background check requests were up 42% from the same time period last year.
Investigations by the News4 I-Team
Maryland has also seen an increase, although not a record. Purchase applications are up 42% over March of last year.
Gun stores are considered essential businesses in both states.
But Virginia State Police say this uptick hasn't come close to the single-day record of 5,645 background check requests, set on Black Friday in 2019, shortly after Democrats won control of the Virginia legislature.
Sebastian says actual sales are even higher than the number of background check requests.
“You don't really know the quantity that person purchased; they don't track that. And that’s where we're seeing a lot of people buying in multiples,” said Sebastian, adding that people could be people preparing for possible social unrest or just worried about the supply chain.
Customer Tim Tidaback says it may not be fear at all. He went to the store to buy ammunition because he was off from work and enjoys shooting.
“I figure, well, I've got to be away from other people,” he said. “This is a really good kind of a solitary type of activity. And you don't have to be right next to somebody."
But he added he does see why there might be an increasing interest among first-time gun buyers worried about self-protection.
“It definitely is some people are buying because of, you know, everything that's going on," Tidaback said.
It isn’t just Virginia. States around the country have reported lines at some gun stores.
Maryland State Police say since March 1, regulated firearms purchase applications are up about 12% over the same timeframe last year.
“Major distributors that normally have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of rounds in inventory, are at zero,” said Sebastian.
He added that if people are bored being unable to congregate at restaurants and bars, maybe they’ll continue to shop where they can. He plans to remain open.
“As long as we're able to be here and as long as people want us to be here, we'll be here,” Sebastian said.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.