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Coronavirus fears in Baltimore, region spur ‘panic buying’ of guns and ammunition

In this time of coronavirus and lockdowns, it seems nobody in Maryland wants to get caught short on toilet paper, pasta, soup or hand sanitizer.

Add ammunition and firearms to that list, at least for a growing number of people across Baltimore and the region. Panic buying and frenzies are becoming common, gun rights advocates and shop owners say, adding that the trend is expected during uncertain times.

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Owners and employees say they have been inundated with phone calls and requests for what is becoming a scarce commodity. Many shops posted notes on their social media pages announcing they are too busy to answer phone calls. Some who did answer offered the same message: they were too busy to talk.

Baltimore and the state are not alone in this trend, said Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, a gun rights group.




“It’s going on nationwide,” Pennak said. “People are buying. It’s what you would expect in times of uncertainty. If people feel uncertain, they feel the need to protect themselves, and people, of course, are prone to load up on stuff that they think they might need.”

Anyone searching for rolls of toilet paper or bottles of hand sanitizer can certainly relate, he said.

“Ammunition’s really no different,” Pennak said. “It’s just a commodity that people think they might have to use. “It’s a reaction to the fears created by this coronavirus and the fears of a breakdown in civil society."

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Buyers include those who haven’t previously owned a firearm as current owners growing more concerned as as events were canceled, schools closed and grocery stores drained, according to industry experts and Andi Morony, a spokesperson for the Maryland State Rifle & Pistol Association.

Morony echoed the idea that some of the purchases were the result of “panic buying,” adding that there are groups of people who feel a need to be prepared.

“I think, for the average law-abiding citizens, they see this as an incredibly useful tool,” she said. “This might mean different things, whether it’s eggs or whatever. For each person, they have a different list of things that they find to be ideal tools in a crisis.

“It’s panic buying mostly, but also, it’s the market, and people want what they want, whether it’s eggs or ammunition.”

Pennak and Morony said this has happened before, pointing out that the 2008 election of Barack Obama had some gun owners stockpiling guns and ammo, afraid he would crackdown on purchases and sales.

The same thing happened around the passage of Maryland’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013.

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And given the current uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, some are concerned that there may be new pushes to restrict firearms access. The mayors of New Orleans and Champaign, Illinois, recently signed executive orders giving them the right to ban the sale of guns or ammunition.

Although gun sales commonly rise in election years, this January and February combined for more than 5.5 million background checks, according to data from the FBI, an increase of nearly 350,000 for the same time frame in 2016.

“Many people are likely buying now because they are concerned they won’t be able to buy later if they need to,” Morony said.

That fear is understandable, Pennak said. At 69 years old, he is among those who are most at risk to the coronavirus.

"It's nice to be able to tell people to be calm about this and not to worry about it,” Pennak said, “but I can't tell people that they shouldn't worry about it because, hell, I'm over the age of 60, and that makes me a high-risk person. I can't tell them not to be afraid.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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