CORONAVIRUS

Corridor gun shops see more demand in midst of coronavirus

Marion shop staying open all night, but limiting ammo purchases

Store owner Ernie Traugh helps customers Saturday at Cedar Valley Outfitters in Marion. He has seen an uptick in first-t
Store owner Ernie Traugh helps customers Saturday at Cedar Valley Outfitters in Marion. He has seen an uptick in first-time buyers opting for long guns, which in Iowa do not require obtaining a permit to acquire. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Local gun stores are scrambling to keep up with the demand for weapons and ammunition, but unlike with toilet paper and hand sanitizer there is no shortage of guns so far.

Two store owners in Marion and Hiawatha say there are more first-time buyers than usual and most of those are buying long guns, which don’t require a carry permit in Iowa.

Still, a National Instant Background Check is required. If the buyer doesn’t have any arrests or criminal history, the check usually takes two or three minutes. However, that time may be longer now since there has been a 300 percent jump in checks in a week, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, Conn.

Gun shops across the country have reported a spike in sales, specifically in first-time gun buyers, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health warnings of the need to practice social distancing and not form crowds hasn’t seemed to curtail firearms shopping anywhere, including here.

Ernie Traugh, a licensed gun dealer and owner of Cedar Valley Outfitters in Marion, said he has been staying open overnight for the last few days because of demand, and also to spread out the crowds. But it’s been difficult to encourage social distancing when there are 30 people wanting to shop at once.

In the overnight hours, he said, he gets a lot of shift workers from Cedar Rapids and those seeking to avoid crowds.

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Although nobody has seemed too concerned about being in a crowd, he said, Traugh and the employees are trying to take precautions by wiping down the cases and guns before and after people handle them. He has also reduced his permit-to-carry classes to groups of 10 or fewer.

Traugh said he sees many regular customers, but there are more new ones who have expressed concerns over the possibility of limited resources and want to be able to defend themselves during the pandemic. Some of the first-time buyers didn’t know about the wait time required in Iowa for getting a permit for handguns. They instead opt for a shotgun or rifle.

“It’s really not fun to sell guns when the customer is panicked because I can’t find out what they really need,” Traugh said.

Wade Puffer, owner of Midwest Shooting in Hiawatha, said his significant increase in sales also has been from first-time buyers wanting “home defense shotguns.” The shoppers have expressed concerns about how others would react if there are more shortages or other hardships ahead.

Neither store has run out of stock, but Traugh said he has ordered more in the last few days than ever before to keep up. Puffer said he had a large storage for the first quarter of the year.

Traugh said he usually has 50 to 80 firearms in the store, but to keep up now he has hundreds and it’s becoming more difficult to get stock.

He did start limiting ammunition sales. Each customer is restricted to two boxes per caliber a day. But some just come back the next day for more.

Both sellers have heard vendors and distributors are having a tough time meeting demand or are out of stock, and shipping has been delayed.

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An online retailer, Ammo.com, reported huge increases in sales. The company said sales increased about 68 percent shortly after Italy last month reported a severe COVID-19 outbreak, according to NPR. Sales jumped the highest in North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said it wasn’t surprising to hear gun sales are up. But despite the fears of buyers, there has not been an uptick in crime or calls for service, he said.

The number of permits issued in Linn County to acquire handguns — the permit not needed for long guns — over the first three months of this year are up over the same period last year. But they don’t represent a significant increase when compared with the same times over the last four years. Here are the number of permits issued in the first three months of each year in Linn County:

2016 — 2,740

2017 — 1,547

2018 — 1,919

2019 — 892

2020 — 1,014 so far

In a proclamation issued Friday by Gov. Kim Reynolds, people who want to obtain a gun permit or renew an existing permits will now be able to do it by mail, instead of in person as has been required. They will have to send a copy of their driver’s license with the required forms. The forms can also be dropped off in person or filed electronically.

Gardner said any permits to carry also won’t expire while the proclamation is in effect.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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