As virus spreads many worried not just about health, but safety

COVID-19 Spikes Gun Sales




Long Islanders are not just lining up to buy hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, and toilet paper amid the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re lining up to buy guns, too.

“We have had a line every day for over a week, starting one, two hours before we open,” said Chris LaPonite, co-owner of Medford-based Long Island Gun Source. “Almost all are first-time gun buyers.”

Co-owner Cliff Pfleger, who also runs the Facebook page Long Island Firearm Forum, said sales have “gone up 1,000 percent,” adding he’s only letting five people in his shop at a time to ensure social distancing.

“They don’t care. At this point, they feel that having a firearm is more important than the guy coughing next to you,” Pfleger said. “But most first-timers put it in their closet and never use it. I’ll buy it back from them in a few years as a used-new gun.”

Statistics reported by Ammo.com from February 23 to March 15 reveal a 309 percent increase in revenue, a 222 percent increase in transactions, a 77 percent increase in site traffic, and a 27 percent increase in the average order. The site, which sells ammunition online, witnessed a 276 percent sales surge on March 10, the day the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. reached more than 1000.

The line outside Long Island Gun Source in Medford. Independent/Chris LaPonite

According to the most up-to-date figures from Suffolk and Nassau County Departments of Health and the state, novel coronavirus cases in New York surpassed 10,000 as of March 21, now up to more than 15,000. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said there are over 1000 confirmed cases in Suffolk County, and as of Saturday, said 55 are hospitalized and 14 of them are in intensive care units.

“My message would be for people to relax and not to panic,” Bellone said on a conference call with reporters. “I understand this is an unprecedented situation . . .  People should understand that every day, agencies that are charged with protecting health and public safety are working.”

But many want to make sure they can protect themselves in the case of an emergency.

“I’m a supporter of the police, however, I feel my family’s protection is on me at this point,” said Anthony De Vito of Massapequa Park. “With all the criminals back on the street versus the number of officers the odds are against us.”

William Bohuslaw of Yaphank said those that have never touched a firearm, that are lining up to purchase one, is what scares him the most.

“These clueless rookies are a hazard to themselves and the public,” Mike Sanchez said. “Wait ‘til they start test-firing in their backyards.”

“So a bunch of yahoos with guns now,” said Philip Calderone of Lindenhurst. “All because they can’t get toilet paper.”

Some were shocked that this many people are still looking to buy guns and ammunition.

“The same people who would vote to take your guns away suddenly are in fear,” said Ryan Paul of Plainview. “They want/need a gun to protect their family/home, etc.”

Chris DeLena said he’s thankful the owners of Long Island Gun Source are not price-gauging.

“You guys seemed extremely calm considering the mob that was present when I walked in,” he said in a Facebook post. “You guys were extremely patient, helpful, and friendly.”

Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron, also speaking on a conference call, said he saw a similar increase in guns sales on Long Island after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

“I want to assure everyone that the Suffolk County Police Department is well prepared to protect them throughout this crisis” he said, adding violent crime is down across the county.

Fred Tartaglione, owner of Fred’s Gun Shop in Port Jefferson Station, said he’s also been busy.

“Things are absolutely crazy right now,” he said. “People are coming in every second. We cannot answer phone calls. We’re getting them every 20 to 30 seconds.”

He said most are looking for shotguns and ammunition, adding he has very little left, and can’t even get his suppliers on the phone.

“It’s unprecedented,” Tartaglione said. “We have a lot of unfamiliar people buying firearms, many of them previously against us, and we’re educating everyone as much as we possibly can.”

With reports of the surge in sales circulating, those like Brady President Kris Brown, whose nonprofit organization fights gun violence, felt the need to respond.

She said unsecured and improperly-stored firearms in the home can lead to unintentional shootings, what’s termed as “family fire.” These shootings injure or kill eight children or teens every day, Brown said, adding unsecured guns also place owners at risk. Individuals with unsecured guns in the home can be up to two times as likely to be murdered, she said, while guns in the home increase the risk of homicide in a domestic violence incident by up to 500 percent and increase the likelihood of a fatal outcome in a suicide attempt.

“While it is understandable to seek what can feel like protection in times of upheaval, we must acknowledge the risks that bringing guns into the home pose and take all appropriate measures to mitigate that risk,” Brown said in a statement. “In this uncertain time, we urge all gun owners to ensure that their weapons are safely stored — locked in a safe and unloaded, with ammunition stored separately — and to have appropriate conversations with their families to reduce the risk of family fire. Just like we can all do our part to slow the spread of this virus, we can do our part to help prevent unintentional shootings in the home.”

desiree@indyeastend.com

Read more about the spread of COVID-19 here.