Detroit Lakes area gun shops are seeing a surge in firearm and ammunition purchases, riding a nationwide sales wave brought on by rising concerns related to COVID-19.

Lakes Sport Shop in Detroit Lakes, Johnson Performance in Frazee, Gene’s Sport Shop in Perham and Klinnert Outpost in New York Mills all reported increased sales over the past few weeks, especially of home defense-style handguns and ammunition.

“We’ve had lines an hour long,” said Paul Klinnert, of Klinnert Outpost. “March is usually a pretty good month for gun sales anyway … but yeah, it’s definitely picked up. I’ve got people coming quite a distance to get ammunition. They come here and tell me a lot of places don’t even have product.”

With demand outweighing supply, some gun shops are coping with empty shelves, and most are putting limits on how much ammunition each customer can buy. The situation is similar to the toilet paper shortages everybody’s talking about, said Marty Kumpula of Lakes Sport Shop: “People are stocking up.”

Local gun shops have begun limiting how much ammunition each customer can buy, in order to help ensure there's enough for everyone. Shop owners and clerks say the situation is similar to the toilet paper shortages going on across the nation. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)
Local gun shops have begun limiting how much ammunition each customer can buy, in order to help ensure there's enough for everyone. Shop owners and clerks say the situation is similar to the toilet paper shortages going on across the nation. (Marie Johnson / Tribune)

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Kumpula said ammunition, as well as 9mm and similar smaller-sized, economical handguns, “have been selling like wild." The same is true at the other local shops.

“We sold through everything we have in stock, and we’re not able to order more at this time,” said Josh Nordick of Gene’s Sport Shop. “The home-defense type of guns and ammo have sold well.”

Sales surges like this one have happened plenty of times before, but in the past they’ve been sparked by events such as mass shootings or a presidential election -- events that might result in new gun legislation.

What makes this time different, according to Matt Johnson, of Johnson Performance, is that there’s “a justifiable concern on individuals’ ability to protect and provide for themselves and loved ones.”

As the virus spreads and stay-at-home orders and other social distancing rules expand, people want to be prepared if a worst-case scenario were to happen. National news reports have described worries about continued disruptions in the supply chain of hard-to-find essentials, such as toilet paper. As a March 22 Washington Post article stated, some fear that the situation could lead “angry have-nots ... to steal from the haves.”

"It's just fear mongering," Klinnert said. "They think everything's going to shut down. People are just crazy."

Gun sales are soaring all across the country. According to a March 21 ABC News story, the internet retailer ammo.com reported a 309% increase in revenue and a 222% surge in transactions in February, a sales record it called “unprecedented.” And the National Instant Criminal Background Check System said it responded to inquiries on 2.8 million prospective gun buyers in February, the third-highest monthly total since the system was created in 1998.

Johnson said the firearms industry was not prepared to deal with that demand.

“We work with six major distributors and right now even the best of them haven’t shipped orders that were placed over a week ago," he said. "Where we would easily sell 150,000-plus rounds of ammunition a month, that number may fall to less than 8,000 until everyone catches up.”

There was consensus among the local shop owners that things would even out again, eventually, as they always have in the past following these kinds of sales waves.

“It’s a trend,” Nordick said. “It happens when things get kind of hairy across the country. We’ve seen this before. It’ll return to normality sooner or later.”

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