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PSP: Gun purchases spike in Pa. amid pandemic, protests

Logan Hullinger
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

Nationwide unrest in response to the deaths of Black people at the hands of police and to the COVID-19 pandemic may have driven more Pennsylvanians to stockpile firearms, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

PSP on Wednesday released data on background checks conducted through the Pennsylvania Instant Check System for the second quarter of 2020. With 314,319 checks, the quarter marked a 45% increase from the same time last year.

Meanwhile, there was an 88% increase in purchase denials, with the PSP reporting 5,801 denials compared with 3,085 over the same period last year.

"This is not unusual," said PSP spokesperson Ryan Tarkowski. "We see spikes like this in response to the news regularly. People watch the news and they want to be prepared."

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The state police's record for PICS checks was 370,000 in the first quarter of 2013, shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Tarkowski said.

Such incidents, he said, have historically driven gun purchases. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Live Matters movement have been at the forefront of national discussion.

As for the pandemic, fears of scarcity could have been a big driver, Tarkowski said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when economic shutdowns became imminent, lines were out the door at gun stores in York County and throughout the country.

Jace Tomko of New Freedom, 17, rallies along Main Street in New Freedom Tuesday, June 9, 2020, in the wake of the George Floyd killing. About 15 people joined the protest which Virginia Shelley, 20, of New Freedom, organized. Shelley said the afternoon rallies have been taking place for the past week. A memorial service for Floyd was being held in Houston Tuesday. Bill Kalina photo

And nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, have also driven firearm sales, said Robert Preston, of the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association.

"Prior to the George Floyd thing, the COVID scare drove many people into 'survival mode,' where they buy guns/ammo just in case of need," Preston said in an email. "Then there are spikes during civil unrest which has rioting as we all have seen in the news. There again, some folks buy guns/ammo."

Floyd's death was part of a string of incidents that has fueled cries for police reforms. Policy changes ranging from bans on unsafe restraints to the reallocation of police funding to social programs have been pitched by proponents.

Other Black individuals who died at the hands of police, such as Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Kentucky, and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, have also been a large part of the national discussion.

The PSP data is not limited to background checks conducted for new purchases and transfers. It also includes other scenarios, such as license to carry checks, according to the PSP.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.