Black Friday is typically the biggest day of the year for gun sales, and Black Friday 2020 might end up being the biggest day of all for some gun sellers.
But that depends on whether the enthusiasm of holiday gun shoppers managed to make up for lean inventories and Covid-19 restrictions.
“This Black Friday, dollar-wise, was the biggest day in our history,” said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C., a family business that started in 1959. Online sales were strong and there was a line out the brick-and-mortar store all day, he said.
Black Friday was also the day that North Carolina implemented a mask mandate to battle rising rates of coronavirus infections. Hyatt said that getting customers to comply with mask and social distancing rules can be like “trying to herd cats” so he hired an off-duty police officer for help.
“We don’t want to be put in the position of being sheriff over our customers,” he said. “Spacing has been a little problem but we’ve done that gently.”
California’s Covid restrictions put a lid on sales, a gun seller there said.
“[On] Black Friday we were down about 50% versus last year,” said Danielle Jaymes, general manager of Poway Weapons and Gear Range in Poway, California. “We were still busy, but we were down 50% because California is on lockdown. We could only allow a certain number of people inside at a time, so it really hindered what we can do.”
Restrictions have tightened in many places as coronavirus ravages the country, with 205,000 new cases reported just on Black Friday. Total cases have exceeded 13.2 million, with more than 266,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Gun sales began to surge as the pandemic swept across the country in March. This year has already broken a record for background checks administered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with 32.13 million in the first 10 months of the year. While FBI background checks are not the same as sales, they are the closest nationwide proxy. The FBI figures for Black Friday will come out in December.
Americans are buying guns for self-protection. They’re afraid of the pandemic that has flattened the economy and fueled civil unrest. Many of them are new buyers, including women, senior citizens and African Americans who are buying user-friendly semiautomatic compact pistols. Nearly 7 million Americans bought a gun for the first time during the first 10 months of the year, according to the industry group the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
“The holiday weekend of Thanksgiving, and especially Black Friday, are typically strong sales days for firearms,” said Mark Oliva, director of public relations for the NSSF. “This year, I expect it will be no different. We’ve already seen record-setting background checks for the sale of a firearm this year, breaking all previous records.”
The pandemic has certainly had an impact on Black Friday shopping, thinning out foot traffic in iconic retail locations like the Macy’s flagship store in New York. The Centers for Disease Control recommended online shopping for Black Friday. Online sales surged 22% on Black Friday to a record $9 billion, according to Adobe Analytics.
But a more widespread issue for the gun industry is the disruption to the supply chain since the start of Covid-19, even as demand for self-defense firearms has skyrocketed.
Jaymes said she was having a hard time keeping the popular Glock semiautomatic pistols in stock. Hyatt said that compact pistols like the Smith & Wesson EZ 9mm and the Sig Sauer P365 were flying off the shelves. They both said that home-defense shotguns were selling out, and ammunition is scarce enough to ration purchases. This could potentially put a cap on sales.
“One of the challenges the industry faces now, however, is a lack of inventory on store shelves of both firearms and ammunition to meet that strong demand,” said Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst for Aegis Capital. “Retailer inventory for firearms and ammunition remains unusually low, given the strong demand these past several months, which could potentially put a damper on the overall level of sales on Black Friday.”
The constraint on inventory is particularly intense with assault rifles, the tactical-style semiautomatic rifles that gun sellers prefer to call modern sporting rifles, including the popular AR-15.
Hyatt said that prices for these rifles are “still in the stratosphere” while Jaymes said she was sold out.
“We don’t have any ARs right now; we are struggling to get those,” she said. “People are asking for those but we just don’t have them.”
There is also a political catalyst driving sales through the holiday season. President-elect Joseph Biden, a Democrat, has a gun control plan that includes a ban on the manufacture of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which have been used in the deadliest mass shootings.
The Biden plan also includes the expansion of background checks and the registering of all assault weapons under the National Firearms Act, which requires a $200 tax and lengthens the background check process from about 20 minutes, to about eight or ten months. Biden is planning nationwide gun buybacks for gun owners who don’t register for the NFA and he also wants to repeal the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, the industry’s protection from liability lawsuits.
The specter of Biden’s gun control plan, combined with pandemic anxiety and the desire for self protection, have fueled sales since early in the year.
“It’s pretty much been Black Friday most of this year,” said Jaymes.
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