As protests continue across the country, and President Donald Trump warns of rampant lawlessness should former Vice President Joe Biden win the election, gun owners are stocking up.
In Texas, fear has been a motivation for first-time gun-owners, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.
Just over a third of Texans polled say they own at least one gun. Some 17% of gun owners bought a gun within the past 90 days, and of those, more than half were first-time buyers.
The pace picked up substantially in August.
Most of the people who bought their first gun this summer bought it in the past two weeks. Of the people who bought a gun in the past 14 days, 84% were buying for the first time.
Almost half of the 1,150 Texas voters surveyed expect that the pandemic will lead to civil unrest. About a third own at least one gun.
“I think there is a general panic and unrest,” said poll respondent Tony Ashcraft, owner of a gun center in Pearland.
Demand by first-time gun buyers began to spike in March, said Ashcraft, who said that in six years selling guns, he’s never seen as many first-time buyers as in the past six months.
“There’s no one flavor of humanity that comes in. A big panic is panic in everybody’s mind. Everybody is worried,” he said.
The survey results bear that out.
First-time gun buyers favor Biden over Trump, in fact.
The FBI has done over 1.5 million background checks for Texas gun buyers this year — more than in all of 2019, and with four months left in 2020.
Bruce Jones of New Braunfels, a former school administrator, was one of the poll respondents who bought his first gun this year.
After serving more than 20 years in the Army, Jones said he is comfortable using a weapon, but he never felt he needed one until he moved from New Jersey to Texas this year.
He decided to buy a gun five months ago after seeing a man take out a gun and point it at a driver who cut him off on the highway.
“I purchased because everybody else [has] got one,” Jones said. “In case somebody tried to break into my house or injure my family, I’ve got to be able to protect myself.”
Since 1998, the FBI has recorded the highest number of background checks per day and per week in 2020. Eight of the top 10 weeks in the past 22 years were in 2020. Gun dealers surveyed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimated that 40% of their sales have been to first-time gun buyers this year.
For those surveyed, fear of the presidential election’s outcome was not a notable concern.
But Ashcraft saw purchases skyrocket in March, when the pandemic began, with another spike in June when racial tensions increased across the country. Since George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minnesota at the end of May, there have been protests across the country calling for a racial reckoning — some of which grew violent.
There were a record-breaking 4 million firearm background checks nationwide in June as the protests picked up.
As a Black man, Jones said there are extra complications to owning a gun. He said he keeps his weapon at home, and he would be afraid to be pulled over by a police officer while he has his gun in the car.
“It’s scary out here,” Jones said.
Not all weapon purchases were for self-defense.
Stephen Rahimian of Waco recently bought a vintage rifle for his collection of 12 firearms from the first and second world wars. For him, the rifle is more of a historical artifact than a weapon, but he hoped to use it to qualify for the Civilian Marksmanship Program, which requires passing a test showing competence with a firearm, so he can be eligible to buy more vintage weapons.
“None of these rifles are like an AR-15,” Rahimian said, “like high-capacity magazines or something like that. … I don’t think you’re going to see most people going on a shooting rampage with a rifle from World War I.”
Ashcraft cautioned against buying a firearm out of panic, because buying is just the first step in being a responsible gun owner.
“The best thing that can happen to you is you own a gun, and you know how to load it, you know how to unload it, you know where and when you can shoot it, you know how to store it, you know how to keep it safe, you know how to clean it — and you never have to use it to harm anybody else or defend yourself by taking someone else’s life,” Ashcraft said. “That is the best scenario that can happen to you.”