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State police: Gun sales in Pa. surged in Q4 of 2020

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
An entire shelf normally filled with handguns sits empty at Bluestone Firearms in Lower Windsor Township as customers worried about the pandemic stock up on guns and ammunition, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The number of instant background checks for firearms licenses and gun purchases in Pennsylvania hit a record 420,581 in the last quarter of 2020, the most checks ever recorded in a single quarter, Pennsylvania State Police said.

The previous record for the Pennsylvania Instant Check System was in the third quarter of 2020 with 406,151 background checks.

Gun sales skyrocketed statewide and across the country after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, and they haven't slowed down since, said Andrew Winter, owner of Winter Firearms in Red Lion.

"It’s been pretty much the same since the whole virus started," Winter said. "I've just been slammed in general."

After the public began stocking up on toilet paper, bottled water and nonperishable food during the first COVID-19 lockdowns in March, there was also a run on firearms and ammunition that continued through the year.

The FBI noted similar spikes nationally during last year's COVID-19 lockdowns. That agency conducted more background checks for firearm purchases in 2020 than at any point since it started keeping track in 1998, reported CNN in October. 

Sales surged even further after President-elect Joe Biden, a Democrat, won the Nov. 3 presidential election, ABC reported in December. 

The state hasn't released its 2020 annual report on PICS checks yet, but based on the sum of the four quarterly reports, there were more than 1.4 million firearm background checks in Pennsylvania last year, compared with the 2019 total of 982,036 background checks.

Panic buying because of the COVID-19 pandemic isn't just effecting grocery stores. Gun shops have had a run on firearm sales and most area stores, including Bluestone Firearms in Lower Windsor Township, are out of popular ammunition.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

In the last quarter of 2020, there were 54% more background checks than in the last quarter of 2019, which had 272,901 PICS checks, state police said.

Winter said a lot of his customers have talked about new gun control measures that could be enacted by Biden after he takes office, and that there are often rumors or fears of new laws that contribute to surges in sales.

Gun rights groups have been up in arms in recent days over Biden's pledge to fight the National Rifle Association, the largest gun rights lobby in the country, and his goal of banning the manufacturing and sale of "assault weapons," a term usually used to describe popular sporting rifles such as the AR-15.

"I just take it as all hearsay until, you know, something actually changes," Winter said.

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