Rhode Island gun sales surge amid coronavirus pandemic

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TIVERTON, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Toilet paper, hand sanitizer – and guns?

Gun shops across Rhode Island tell Eyewitness News their sales of spiked since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Randy Lebeau, owner of Sakonnet River Outfitters in Tiverton, said his business has increased about 20-to-25% in the past two weeks. He also said many of his customers are first-time gun purchasers

“They are coming up to us saying, ‘We’re looking for our first gun.’ My question is, ‘Why do you think you need a gun?’ Their answer is, ‘Because of what’s going on,'” Lebeau said.

Lebeau said he prefers business to be slow and steady, but for gun shop owners across the country, he calls this “Christmas in March.” He also said many people aren’t just looking for guns – they’re also seeking ammunition.

“There has been a major rush on ammo,” Lebeau said.

Sid Wordell, the executive director of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, believes recent events have triggered a run by people purchasing firearms from local gun dealers.

In a letter to Governor Gina Raimondo, Wordell said, “These gun dealers themselves have indicated that they have been flooded with gun purchases over the past week like they have never seen before, commenting that they struggle to keep up with the demand.”

To make his point, Wordell referred to an increase in business at gun shops in Warwick and Richmond, where he said both police departments have been overrun with background check applications.

“Colonel Rathbun of Warwick Police advised that his department generally averages approximately 28 applications per day up until March 15. Since then, he has received 404 covering three days of sales, or approximately 135 per day,” Wordell wrote.

Meantime, in Richmond, Wordell said Chief Elwood Johnson’s department was averaging about five applications per day prior to March 13. Since that time, Johnson said the number of background check applications for prospective gun owners has quadrupled in his town.

Wordell said law enforcement is having trouble keeping up with the increased demand in background check applications because they are required to do so within seven days.

He said, “if the law enforcement agency conducting the background check fails to complete or respond within those seven days the transfer is allowed to proceed.”

Looking for help, Wordell went to Gov. Gina Raimondo, asking her to extend the period for background checks from seven days to 30. On Friday, she signed an executive order regarding that extension.

“The purpose is to allow our local police departments and state police to do the work that’s necessary before the permit is given,” Raimondo said.

On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence said it was extremely concerned about the uptick in gun sales.

In a statement, the organization said “the reality is, Americans are reacting to the public health crisis of COVID-19 by feeding another leading public health crisis in America, gun violence. Although we do not yet know how this increase in gun sales will impact rates of household violence in America, we do know that having a gun in one’s home does not institute safety. In fact, owning a gun or having a gun in your home puts you at a higher risk of suicide death, homicide death, or death by accidental detonation.”

The organization applauded Raimondo’s decision to extend Rhode Island’s seven-day waiting period to own a firearm to 30 days.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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