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Guns, knives in high demand at stores

Next to toilet paper and sanitizers of any kind, home defense items are high on the list of sought after items as positive coronavirus cases continue to rise across the state.

Stores selling those items have been pushed to the limit on inventory and are seeing a lot of unfamiliar faces come through the doors.

“We have a lot of first-time buyers,” said Abel Boyer, of A.F. Boyer Hardware and Guns in Slatington.

“Everyone wants something, but they don’t have the proper training. It’s a trying time because we are doing as much education as we are selling.”

Higher requested items include 9 mm, 5.56 mm and .223-caliber ammunition. It isn’t just ammunition flying off the shelves, however. Boyer said anything you can defend yourself with, even a machete, is a current hot buy.

“People are even buying the .22 long rifle again,” Boyer said. “We’re very low on a lot of stuff. We have more coming but it’s tough to keep up. Wednesday morning it finally slowed down a little for about the first time in two months.”

At the Ten-X Sport Shop in Lansford, Shawn Clark said this type of demand for firearms and ammunition hasn’t been seen since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, when there was talk of more stringent gun laws.

“Right before the Trump-Hillary election, there was also a lot of demand but it really died down after that,” Clark said. “Right now though it’s through the roof. One other thing we’re seeing is one person buying multiple guns.”

The Ten-X shop deals mostly with online sales. If a user in Texas buys a gun, for example, they then ship it to a federally licensed dealer there and the person will go there for the background check.

“It hasn’t let up since Friday afternoon,” Clark said. “It was honestly like the flip of a switch. We’re going to our distributor three times a week to pickup orders in terms of ammunition, but eventually that’s going to run out.”

An employee at Dunkelberger’s Sports Outfitters in Brodheadsville said almost half of the store’s inventory is wiped out, with around 35 to 40 percent of customers being first-time buyers.

He said a lot of people are looking for handguns or shotguns. The store has just a few AR models on the shelf Thursday morning.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania’s instant background check system went down for a brief period, but is working once again.

Maj. Gary Dance, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification, said technology challenges and a surge in requests resulted in PICS twice going offline.

“An isolated server issue was responsible for the morning outage from 8 to 11:30 a.m. The second outage happened between 5 and 8:40 p.m., due to a backlog of request,” he said.

Despite the downtime, PICS completed 4,342 transactions on Tuesday, compared to 1,359 transactions on the corresponding Tuesday in March 2019. Transactions include background checks for purchases, transfers, evidence returns and license to carry applications.

“The Pennsylvania State Police is working with its vendor to increase processing power to avoid future backlogs and will adjust staffing as needed to meet demand,” Dance said. “Rumors circulating on social media that PICS has been shut down as part of the commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 epidemic are false. PICS is, and will remain, operational.”

Concerns similar to those in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are a large driver of the high demand, Boyer said.

“There is a lot of fear that if everything is shut down, which it won’t be, that people will be looking to steal valuables and there will be a lot of looting going on,” he said.

Like any other grocery store, Boyer is also selling cleaning supplies at a never before seen rate.

Nationwide, gun sales were already off to a scorching start for 2020. According to statistics from the FBI, 5.5 million background checks were conducted in January and February. That is roughly 1 million more than was conducted during the same period in 2019.

A gun store in the Philadelphia suburbs limited occupancy to 10 customers at a time and said it was taking people an hour or two to get in.

The three-day Eagle Arms Gun Show was canceled last weekend at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center, adding to greater demand at stores like Ten-X and Boyer.

“We call that the tax rebate special show because everyone comes with their tax refund and spends it there,” Clark said. “There are 2,000 federally licensed dealers there. That has forced people to the mom and pop shops.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Shawn Clark, owner of Ten-X Sport Shop, holds a full auto Powder Springs Mac 10 while posing with some of his other inventory in his shop Wednesday afternoon. Clark, a competitive shooter and dealer said that he's never seen the firearms market as busy as it's been in recent days. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS