WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Heightened anxiety prompted by the coronavirus this month have prompted a rush to gun stores and a big jump in background checks in Florida.
“I think crazy describes it pretty well,” said Alex Shkop, owner of Guns & Range Training Center in West Palm Beach. “Most of the stores don’t have anything left to sell…we’ve been depleting our inventory significantly faster than we can replenish it."
Contact 5 compiled some numbers on the recent surge. Stats from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show a whopping 13,192 background checks were performed in the state of Florida on Friday March 20, making it the single highest performing day for background checks since Jan. 1, 2012.
From January 2019 to March 2019 there were 243,994 background checks in Florida. This year, from January to March, there have been 295,498 background checks.
"I think this is a wave of first-time buyers. I’m guesstimating, but I would say close to 75 to 80 percent of people were first time buyers," Shkop told Contact 5 investigator Merris Badcock. "They have never seen a gun. They have never held a gun."
Contact 5 found plenty of first-time gun purchasers standing in line outside Sharp Shooter in West Palm Beach. "This is my very first time, ever in my life," said Mark Johnson, an orange bandana tied around his face. "If it gets really bad and someone just decides to intrude where I live, I have a wife I love. I have four daughters I love, and they are beautiful. It only makes sense to have some protection.
"If you don’t like guns, rethink it like I did. If you’re ignorant about guns and gun laws, read about them. It just might change your thinking, because I learned a lot in the last two days," Johnson told Contact 5.
Johnson joins other "doomsday preppers" who worry what might happen if law enforcement agencies lost patrols to coronavirus, or failed to keep up with a potential increase in crime should the economy tank.
March 2020 had the highest average number of daily background checks since 2012 in Florida, with 5,555 on average each day. March 2020 also came in third for the highest number of total background checks in the time frame reviewed by our Contact 5 investigators. December 2015 was the highest and December 2012 was the second highest month for background checks.
"I think it's our primal instinct of survival. From toilet paper to guns: I think people feel they need to do something. I think it is a little bit of an overreaction, but at the same time it makes people feel better that they've done something," said Shkop.
The document below details background checks in Florida since 2004: