BOZEMAN, Mont. - As COVID cases swell around the United States, we're also seeing an uptick in gun sales. Montana Right Now talked to several firearms instructors and gun store owners across the Gallatin Valley, all of whom said they were seeing the same increase - and possibly an even larger one than the rest of the country.
One retailer said that while his business might normally sell around 25 firearms a week, they're now selling at a rate three or four times that.
Business owners in Bozeman add that sales on guns started climbing in March, just before the pandemic hit. One sales associate said their business sold more firearms in the two weeks leading up to quarantine measures being put into place than in the six months before.
Sergeant Travis Munter with the Bozeman Police Department has seen gun use grow before, and he's not surprised to see it happening again.
"When we see increases in gun sales, it's one of the things that, you know, we live in Montana," Munter says. "Lot of people have guns. It's well within everybody's rights. Really, our concerns would be that these guns would end up in the hands of people who their intent in buying the gun is to cause harm to somebody."
While many business owners couldn't talk on camera, everyone that was willing to speak with Montana Right Now reported back that gun sales have been unprecedented in the last few months. One pawn shop said they're also seeing fewer gun owners selling their firearms.
While usually not to this magnitude, this isn't the first time we've seen a spike in sales across the country. Gun sales exploded after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. That's likely because many Americans were concerned Obama would scale back gun rights.
But what kicked off the increase this time? Firearms instructors and retailers all gave the same two reasons: civil unrest - with riots continuing around the country - and concerns about society breaking down because of events like the global COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent shutdowns.
If that's true, it explains why one retailer told Montana Right Now that he's seen more people buying tactical body armor, as well.
Interestingly, first-time buyers are the ones making up most of the recent sales. Retailers are even seeing customers that said they were once against gun sales now picking up a firearm for the first time.
But even with all of those new owners, firearms instructors report seeing a big dip in the number of people taking classes to learn how to shoot. A lack of training could be a point of concern, according to Munter.
"I think it is very important for people to be familiar with the weapons that they're buying," he says. "A lot of them have little things that they need...to know about so that they are able to possess them and use them safely."
With more sales and less training, you'd think there might be an increase in firearms incidents. But the Bozeman Police Department says that luckily, that's not yet been the case.
"To say that we have any specific increase in gun violence - we really haven't seen any of that," explains Munter.
With all of those sales, one retailer today reported that they're seeing supply chains being cleaned out. Consumers may see fewer guns for sale in the months to come, if only for that reason.