Above-average gun sales continue for third straight month

Special Reports

Sales spiked dramatically in March, but still haven't returned to pre-COVID levels in Oregon

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — The surge in gun sales that appeared to coincide with the start of the coronavirus pandemic has lasted for three months now in Oregon.

“If you go to any gun store you’re going to see shelves that are a little emptier and it’s just how it is right now until the manufacturers are able to build that supply up,” said Steve Riehl, owner of Adaptive Firing Solutions.

Photos of long lines at gun stores across America made international news at the beginning of the pandemic. The FBI processed a record 3.7 million background checks during the month of March.

Oregon was no exception. In March, 51,067 firearms transactions were approved, according to state data. The numbers have remained dramatically higher than usual in the last two months. April and May both saw more than 13,000 additional approved transactions compared to the same months in 2019.

Oregon gun sales according to FICS data (Flourish visualization)

Riehl, who sells guns out of his home near Oregon City, said thinks the initial rush was partly spurred by peoples’ uncertainty and concern in the face of a global pandemic.

“When the panic buying happened and you see that huge influx of gun purchases, stores ran out of their inventory,” he said.

That resulted in buyers having to wait several weeks to receive their guns, which could be augmenting the numbers we’re seeing now.

“A number of people (bought) those firearms online or through the local shops and now they’re getting here and now they’re standing in line again, waiting to pick those up and do the background checks,” he said.

Riehl didn’t have to change his business when the coronavirus response started. He’s always operated by appointment only, so hasn’t had to limit his customers the way brick-and-mortar shops have. He also eyed the changing regulations closely: Some states, including Washington, did not consider gun stores essential businesses.

The rise in gun sales does not appear to coincide with a rise in gun crime, at least when compared to preliminary data from Portland Police. According to the city’s monthly neighborhood offense statistics, overall crime has been slightly down in March and April of 2020 compared to the same time last year.

Local sheriff’s offices are also starting to issue new concealed handgun license (CHL) applications, after pausing that process toward the beginning of the pandemic response. The Oregon State Sheriffs Association said there don’t appear to be any significant backlogs yet. Departments like the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, which would normally process 130-150 new CHL applications in a normal month, say they’re seeing a “steady” demand now that they’re back open.

Riehl said he’s seen a decent number of first-time gun buyers over the past couple of months, which has allowed him to do one of his favorite parts of the job: Educate. Riehl said he’s more than happy to answer any safety or technical questions customers may have.

“Talking with a first time gun buyer about all of those safety concerns and things they should be thinking about is a great opportunity,” Riehl said. “I think it bolsters the image of a gun owner, and we try to dispel these stereotypes that are out there.”

Steve Riehl, owner of Adaptive Firing Solutions, talks with KOIN 6 News on May 27, 2020 (Hannah Ray Lambert)

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