WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As news of a worldwide coronavirus pandemic broke, many rushed to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and guns.
"We had two to three weeks of an Armageddon-type of set up," said Alex Shkop, owner of Guns & Range Training Center in West Palm Beach.
For weeks, long lines could be seen outside gun stores in West Palm Beach with armed guards or law enforcement standing by to help with crowd control.
Numerous gun shop owners told WPTV Contact 5 on background that many purchasers were first-time gun owners.
"We had people that were basically openly admitting that they have never owned a gun, they have never used a gun," said Shkop. "They were purchasing firearms and they were asking questions like how to use them and how to take care of them. A lot of first-time buyer questions."
Contact 5 asked for records from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and found March 2020 was the highest month on record when it comes to background checks for gun purchases. FDLE keeps data as far back as January 2004.
It was a 23 percent increase from the second highest month on record, which was December 2015.
However, with gun ownership comes responsibility.
"We have had a spike in auto burglaries. There have been some reports that there are weapons being found in these auto burglaries. That’s true. People are leaving their guns in their cars," said Deputy Chief Rick Morris with the West Palm Beach Police Department. "We would really like people to not leave their weapons in their cars, and consider locking them up safely to protect themselves, their kids and anyone else."
Morris said new gun purchases are not something law enforcement agencies take issue with. Instead, he said gun owners who lack education and training can put a strain on agency resources if something were to happen.
"With a lot of new gun owners purchasing weapons, hopefully they are taking these safety courses and they are complying with the standard," Morris told Contact 5 investigator Merris Badcock.
As for Shkop, he hopes many of the first-time gun owners he sold to also come back for training.
"Hopefully people will have the opportunity to re-evaluate when things are normal so they have time to learn and react, and we can educate them," said Shkop.