Georgians are stocking up on guns, ammo amid coronavirus fear

The shelves are bare, the lines are long and employees are working frantically to restock.

Sound familiar? It's not a pandemic-era grocery store — it's a gun shop in the age of coronavirus.

And we’re talking firearms and ammo, not soap and toilet tissue.

“To be honest with you, I don’t even know what’s coming,” Elvee Martin, 30, said during a recent stop at Stoddard’s Range and Guns in Midtown Atlanta. “I’m just trying to be prepared for it. Mentally, physically and, you know, in this way too.”

Like those in other states around the country, Georgia gun dealers say they’ve seen a huge spike in sales since the seriousness of the pandemic started to set in last week. They say plenty of regular customers have shown up to stockpile supplies, but the biggest surge has been from first-time “panic buyers” wary of what the near future may bring.

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Ken Baye is a co-owner of Stoddard’s, which also has a location in Douglasville.

“I think there is a sense that government may not be there for me when I really need government to be there,” he said. “What happens if half the police force gets ill, or somebody without a job decides that they really need what I have?”

On Tuesday afternoon, the normally full wall display at Stoddard’s Midtown held a grand total of one weapon. Glass display cases and equipment racks were similarly lacking. Ammo purchases were being limited and there was an hour wait just to begin the buying process.

Employees wore rubber gloves and wiped down surfaces regularly.

Similar scenes were playing out at gun stores across metro Atlanta.

An employee at a Loganville store asked not to be identified but estimated that gun sales had doubled and ammo sales had tripled. A man who answered the phone at a Cobb County shop said he was “sold out” and too busy to chat.

Wade Cummings, one of the general managers at Georgia Gun Club near Buford, likened the surge in customers to “a swarm of locusts.”

Cummings said folks have been lining up waiting for his store to open every morning since the middle of last week, when sports leagues started cancelling or postponing seasons, schools started announcing closures and the potential impact of coronavirus began setting in for many Americans.

Sales have quadrupled, Cummings said. “Home defense shotguns” were the first to go. Pistols, AR-15s, long guns and ammunition haven’t been far behind.

Gun and ammunition runs are common reactions to significant societal events. Such purchases often surge after mass shootings and when Democrats — who are typically more open to gun control measures — appear poised to win major elections.

A virus-fueled surge, though, is something new. And it’s bigger, Cummings said.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

On Saturday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a public health emergency as coronavirus cases in the state continued to grow amid increased testing. The declaration, which was ratified Monday by the state legislature, gives Kemp new powers to deploy resources and suspend laws and regulations.

In a memo explaining the decision and what it entailed, Kemp — a Republican who famously pointed a shotgun at a teenager in a campaign ad — included the following message in bold and italics: "Under no state of emergency, whether 'general' or 'public health,' does the Governor have the power to interfere with the sale, dispensing, or transport of firearms, ammunition, or any component thereof."

Patrick Parsons, the executive director of gun rights organization Georgia Gun Owners, said he’s nonetheless concerned about what a long-term emergency situation could bring. That includes the potential ramifications of a “statewide judicial emergency” that Georgia’s chief Supreme Court justice declared over the weekend.

That declaration orders courts across the state to eliminate “all but essential functions,” a move aimed at limiting in-person interactions and helping halt the coronavirus’ spread.

The order applied to local probate courts, which process licenses for individuals to carry weapons outside of their home, vehicle or place of business. And the Council for Probate Court Judges of Georgia announced Wednesday its decision that processing carry licenses is not an essential function. It has instructed local courts to pause new applications and renewals.

Even before that recommendation came down, Parsons called the potential “very concerning.”

Those buying guns and ammunition in recent days, however, seem more concerned about virus-induced mayhem than government overreach.

Truck driver Lester Malone said he stopped by Stoddard’s this week to buy a gun for his girlfriend, something he’d been meaning to do for a while. But he said he could see why other people have been stocking up.

“If everything goes south, if they shut everything down? If the trucks stop moving, and no food is coming to these Walmarts and Kroger’s and Dollar Generals?” he said. “People are gonna be looking at it like, ‘OK, where are the supplies at? Someone’s house.’

“I hope it doesn’t get to that, I’m just thinking of the trickle effect.”