Yorkers stock up on ammunition ahead of store closings

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Rick Brubaker, center, and Jeff Rodemyer help a first-time gun buyer with his handgun selection at Bluestone Firearms in Lower Windsor Towship, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

York County residents who stocked up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer and dry goods amid COVID-19 fears last week also stopped at their local sporting-goods stores and gun shops to buy ammunition.

Matt Leitzel, owner of Dover Tactical (formerly Tactical Edge) on Conewago Road in Dover Township, said ammunition supplies from distributors dried up last week.

"There is certainly a run on ammunition," he said, but he noted that's not unusual during times of uncertainty.

"You typically see that, too, going into election seasons," he said, because of concern about the unknown.

Leitzel, whose business is by appointment only, said his advice to people is not to stress about it.

"Relax — everything is going to come back," he said. "You create a problem where there isn't a problem. It's the same thing as what's happening with toilet paper."

Jeff Rodemyer, owner of Bluestone Firearms on Bluestone Drive in Lower Windsor Township, agreed that the picked-through ammunition in his store "is like being in the toilet paper and Purell aisles."

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

Slim pickings: He has some ammunition left, he said, "but it's getting slim."

A Saturday post on Bluestone Firearms' Facebook page reported that "it was standing room only from open to close," but that customers were patient.

Rodemyer said Bluestone was open Tuesday by appointment only, primarily so he was there to receive shipments from his distributors.

"We also had people who were still waiting ... to pick up items they had already paid for," he said, such as customers who needed background checks completed. He said Bluestone will continue to be open during its normal business hours.

Rodemyer said that he doesn't know when more ammunition will be delivered to his store.

"We will get more in, but it might take a little while because the distribution centers have to get their shipments in first," he said. "People are calling, asking, 'Do you have this ammunition?'"

He advised customers to call ahead in the next couple of weeks to make sure he's open and said most people are already doing so.

Jeff Rodemyer, owner of Bluestone Firearms, takes a call from a customer looking to purchase ammunition, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

Rodemyer said the possibility of being sickened by the coronavirus hasn't affected his customer service.

"If someone walks in my door, I greet them with a smile. I even shake their hands," he said, adding he then washes his hands — "just like mommy taught me."

Doing their part: Stonybrook Shooting Supplies on East Market Street in Springettsbury Township has closed to walk-in customers for the rest of the week but is open by appointment, according to owner John Scheuerman.

He said he and his wife talked it over and decided that closing the shop, although they're not required to by state law, is the best way they can do their part to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

"I'm hoping it helps," Scheuerman said. "We're trying to keep it from getting any worse."

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

He too saw ammunition sales increase over the past week or so, fueled by customers' concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Shelves are empty in a lot of places," he said.

Freedom Armory on 2nd Amendment Drive in Springfield Township remains open, according to the shop's recorded phone message.

Carbon and Steel Sporting Goods on West Market Street in West Manchester Township also couldn't be reached for comment. The shop's recorded phone message on Tuesday said it is closed and advised customers to watch its Facebook page and website for updates on when it will reopen.

Background checks surge: Statewide, requests to the Pennsylvania Instant Check System have surged, according to state police.

The background check system is used by gun dealers, sheriff's offices and some municipal police departments to determine if a potential gun buyer or current gun owner can legally possess a firearm.

The surge in requests caused the system to go offline twice on Tuesday, once from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and the second time from 5 to 8:40 p.m., police said. The second outage was due to a backlog of requests, while the first outage was caused by an isolated server issue, according to state police.

On Tuesday, the background check system completed 4,342 transactions, state police said; that's compared with 1,359 transactions on the corresponding Tuesday in March 2019.

Transactions include background checks for firearm purchases and transfers, license-to-carry applications and evidence returns.

State police said they are working to increase the system's processing power to avoid future backlogs and said they will adjust staffing as needed to meet the demand.

The system has not been shut down because of the COVID-19 outbreak, despite social-media rumors to the contrary, police said.

Most checks are completed automatically in a matter of minutes, according to state police.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.