Coronavirus Triggers 'Unprecedented Surge' In Gun Sales

LONG ISLAND, NY — Burt Benowitz is 83 years old, and he’s owned his business, Benson Gun Shop, in Coram, for 46 years. Over the course of four decades, he’s seen a lot of changes in the world. He’s lived through the horror of 9/11 and customers who felt buying a firearm would give them a sense of security.

But in that time, he’s seen nothing like the tidal wave of fear that’s engulfed his clients since they learned of the new coronavirus —an enemy that has seen thousands standing in long lines across the country to buy guns and ammunition.

“They’re terrified,” Benowitz said.

His sales have definitely shot up quite a bit in the past week, he said. “It’s considerable.”

Customers, he said, want to protect what’s theirs in a new world where shelves are bare and basic necessities often cannot be found. “It’s not funny,” he said. “They’re afraid of looting. They’re afraid neighbors will come take their toilet paper and their bread.”

Most people are lining up in droves to buy shotguns, Benowitz said.

And he’s not alone: According to ammo.com, while some people are scrambling for hand sanitizer and TP, some are also looking to stockpile guns and ammunition.

The site reported that it noticed “an unprecedented 276 percent sales surge” on March 10. Statistics reported by ammo.com from Feb. 23 to March 15 indicated a 309 percent increase in revenue, a 222 percent increase in transactions, a 77 percent increase in site traffic and a 27 percent increase in the average order.

During a news media call with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone this week, Suffolk County Chief of Police Stuart Cameron confirmed “gun sales are up,” as they often are in times of turmoil, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He said he could not comment on whether there had been an uptick in pistol permits. “Some may already own a firearm and are just adding another,” he said.

Cliff Pfleger, Long Island Gun Source in Medford, who also runs the Long Island Firearm Forum Facebook page, said people are in a panic. “Sales have definitely gone up 1,000 percent. We’ve had lines of 20 to 30 people, nonstop, from the time we open until the time we close, ever since Tuesday of last week.”

The crowds have been so dense that, with an eye toward social distancing, Pflegler has taken to only allowing five customers in at a time. “They don’t care. At this point, they feel that having a firearm is more important than the guy coughing next to you.”

There are deep-seated fears associated with the gun-buying frenzy, he said. “It’s not like some people think. It’s not ‘What are people going to protect, their toilet paper?’ People are being laid off, industries are shutting down. What’s going to happen in 30, 60, 90 days when people need formula, when people have to buy what they need to survive? They think crime will go up, and they think, ‘If crime goes up, it’s not going to happen at my house.'”

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Hollywood, he said, doesn’t help. “They think this is going to be a zombie apocalypse, with outbreaks. They have this fantasy of what’s going to happen, that society will break down.”

Pflegler, however, said he doesn’t believe the outcome will be quite that grim. “I have faith in people,” he said. “The majority of people paying their taxes do the right thing.”

Benowitz, meanwhile, said that just as the supermarket shelves empty and people stockpile supplies, soon there will be gun shortages with no way to replenish the stock any time soon.

“This is not a fun way to make a living,” he said. “We’re in business 46 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Benowitz said he believes the media have fueled much of the panic. “They’re just scaring the heck out of people.”

When asked what he would tell the public, Benowitz replied, “Calm down. Don’t worry. Your neighbors are not coming after you.”