Coronavirus: Illinois gun dealers report increased store traffic, ‘panic buying’
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Coronavirus: Illinois gun dealers report increased store traffic, ‘panic buying’

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SPRINGFIELD — Toilet paper and hand sanitizer are in short supply at Illinois supermarkets. Firearms and ammunition are flying off the shelves at gun shops, too.

As the outbreak of novel coronavirus disease spreads through the state and the country, Illinois firearms retailers say sales of guns and ammunition have substantially increased over the past two weeks and especially in recent days.

“It’s a lot of a panic situation,” said Jim Feagans, who owns J. Gooch Shooting Sports in Springfield. “Firearms and ammunition are going crazy.”

In order to buy a gun in Illinois, residents must first be licensed with a Firearm Owners Identification card, which requires a background check. And every gun they buy requires a Firearms Transfer Inquiry Program request.

A spokesperson for Illinois State Police, which facilitates both processes, said the agency’s Firearms Services Bureau “has experienced a high volume” since last Friday, receiving 18,980 in the six-day span.

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Feagans said his shop started getting busy Monday, on the eve of Illinois restaurants and bars closing to dine-in customers and schools shutting their doors to students.

“I think … all of a sudden people realized, ‘Hey, this is serious,’” he said. “Everybody's talking long term now. So now I think people are starting to get a little bit more panicky.”

Gun shops across the U.S. and in every corner of Illinois have seen firearm and ammunition sales increase, says Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. He said most purchases have been related to home protection.

“They’re worried about civil unrest,” Pearson said.

Feagans said purchases of handguns, common for home protection, have gone up the most, along with ammunition. He also noted his recent clientele has included an unusual number of first-time buyers.

“We are trying to keep up with customers,” said Dan Eldridge, owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines. "There were no limits for ammunition. Most common calibers are gone, but we are being resupplied.”

On Monday, the gun retailer capped the amount of ammunition customers can purchase to no more than 300 rounds on all calibers.

“It’s so we don’t run out. We want to have some for range users," Eldridge said.

In addition to gun sales, Maxon has a shooting range, which was busy over the weekend as well, Eldridge said.

On Wednesday, Maxon shortened its hours of operation, opening an hour later and closing an hour early to give employees time to restock on products and clean the store.

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In Plano, Barry Torphy, owner of Bat Arms, said he’s seen a significant uptick in sales of both firearms and ammunition.

Most people are buying 9 mm. The next most popular caliber is .233 Remington, which is used for rifles. "Between those two they have been our major sellers,” Torphy said.

The Illinois State Police have 30 days to approve or deny the applications. The state was unable to provide information on how many applications have been received in the past year.

Gun store owners say that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the state had a backlog of applications waiting to be processed. On Jan. 31, the Illinois State Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit in federal court against the State Police, alleging that delays in processing the applications were infringing on the right to bear arms.

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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