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Gun sales surge in California during pandemic, study finds

Courtesy of Dan Wells
Santa Maria's Gun School offered more introductory gun safety classes due to the surge.

A new study released by UC Davis says 110,000 Californians purchased a firearm due to the pandemic, and about 43% of those purchases were made by first-time gun owners. 

Dan Wells, retired sheriff deputy and owner of a gun school in Santa Maria, said he used to get about one to four new students each month for his introductory handgun class, but that changed once California went into lockdown in March due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“In the last six months, I’ve had over 150 [new students]," Wells said. " You can imagine how many classes I’ve had to have.”

Wells said he’s seeing people from all walks of life sign up for his classes. He asks them what made them want to get a firearm, with answers ranging from uncertainty from the pandemic to concerns over what they were seeing at some of the protests nationwide.

“People were getting scared, so they are buying guns like crazy," Wells said. "People who have never owned a gun before.”

An employee at Get-R-Gun store in Santa Maria, who preferred to go by his first name Luis, said business there has slowed down in the last couple months, but not from a lack of desire of in wanting a firearm. 

“People are still looking for stuff at an alarming rate," Luis said. "It’s just not available anymore. Manufacturers cannot keep up."

Luis said most people come into the shop looking for handguns and shotguns, but those are hard to keep on the shelves. So the shop has created a waitlist for those types of firearms and advises people to not buy whatever is left on the shelf.

“We always try to help people get into the right firearm, not settle for a firearm,” Luis said.

But Wells said he is seeing students settle for whatever guns are available. 

“I’ve had people come into the class buying guns that they probably shouldn’t have ever bought," Wells said. "Because it was the only one they had left in the store, so they bought it anyways.”

The UC Davis study cautions this surge in firearm purchases could result in negative consequences, from a possible rise in firearm-related injuries and fatalities.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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