Coloradans bought firearms in unusually high numbers this year, driven by turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests and discussion about defunding the police, according to dealers and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
The CBI performed more than 97,000 gun background checks in March and April as firearm sales rocketed during the coronavirus outbreak.
This summer, as riots shook large U.S. cities, the demand has not slowed.
In July, the CBI approved more than 40,000 background checks, and more than 6,000 permits for concealed handgun permits, a nearly 58% spike compared with the previous July’s 3,800 permits for concealed handguns.
And through July, the CBI performed 282,000 background checks this year, nearly 85% of the CBI’s caseload of 335,000 checks for all of 2019.
Gun manufacturers are operating at partial capacity to avoid spreading the virus among workers on the floor. Rock Island Armory in the Philippines, one of the biggest handgun manufacturers in the world, remains closed. Some factories switched to producing the respirators used to treat COVID-19 patients in the early stages of the pandemic.
Closer to home, the statewide surge played out last week in Cortez.
The Gun Show at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds last week attracted locals looking for ammunition, which has been in short supply across the United States because of increased demand and limited manufacturing.
The show also drew sellers and vendors from farther away after cancellations of other gun shows in the Southwest.
More than 1,600 people visited the gun show, and 88 people completed background checks. Because Colorado allows individuals to register up to three guns per background check, gun sales at the show totaled 95.
Ammunition also sold quickly, although the Four Corners Rifle and Pistol Club, which sponsors the event, did not track those sales.
“I think the technical term would be a lot,” said Joe Butterfield, president of the club.
The most popular ammunition sold at the Gun Show was the 9mm used for handguns and self-defense, Butterfield said.
The .17-caliber rimfire – typically used for small game and “varmints” such as coyotes and prairie dogs – also was popular.
“They pretty much sold out,” Butterfield said.
Ron Ferguson, owner of RDF Gun in Cortez, took merchandise to sell at the Gun Show. Normally, he would have five tables of handguns. But because of the manufacturing slowdown, he had one.
Turnaround time for a purchase order is two days, or one week if there is a limited warehouse, Ferguson said.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferguson said, orders have taken four to six weeks.
There’s also a shortage of primers to load the ammunition, Ferguson said.
But demand is high.
“People are worried about the election – from both parties,” he said.
While this phenomenon is not uncommon in the Four Corners before a major election, recent events have fueled fears over Second Amendment rights.
“When you start talking about defunding the police, people think they have to defend themselves,” Ferguson said.
Many stores in the Four Corners have reported an increase in the number of first-time gun buyers.
Renee Dominey of the Rocky Mountain Pawn and Gun store in Durango said regulars and newcomers are visiting her store. She also has reported a sales increase and a gun shortage.
“People are buying what they can,” Dominey said, but the most popular item is the 9mm.
The Rocky Mountain Pawn and Gun store is on a distribution list, and when supply is available, the store receives it. Recently, new stock sells out in less than two days to customers in the area, Dominey said.
“We have people checking every day to find out what we’ve got in,” she said.
National political divides, the pandemic and social unrest are making people uneasy in the Four Corners, according to store owners in the area.
“I hope everything is OK for the United States,” Dominey said.
The Kimo Vista Solutions gun shop in Farmington is waiting on close to 100,000 rounds of ammunition from across the U.S., though owner Gordon Blanchard is not sure when he will get it all.
“I anticipated this running up into the election,” he said.
For Blanchard, demand had already increased, but COVID-19 pushed it over the edge.
“People started hoarding ammo like they were with toilet paper,” Blanchard said.
And while supply is starting to grow again slowly, it is expensive. Range practice ammunition, usually some of the cheapest available, is now up to $1.30 per round. Before COVID-19, it was about 25 cents per round.
“We have to ration it, because if we didn’t, someone would come in to buy and be selling it at the flea market,” Blanchard said.
Some of the major distributors he relies on, such as Ruger Firearms, won’t be up and running again fully for another year. While his store is doing well economically, supply is still not meeting demand.
Kimo Vista Solutions is selling more firearms than ammunition, because ammunition is hard to come by. But Blanchard said 30%-40% of his recent customers are first-time gun owners, wiping out the store’s stock of self-defense shotguns.
With little supply, Blanchard said the number of shotguns available “dried up completely.”