It was a few hours before the first curfew was to go into effect in Los Angeles in early July when I answered the phone and heard a teary, quivering voice. “I’m going to buy my first gun,” my friend Natalia, a single mother who did not want to reveal her full name for employment reasons, said. “How do I know the police will come if I call? What can I get to defend myself?”
I was surprised—yet I wasn’t. My friend is a devout yogi, a staunch feminist and an extreme progressive, so I was at first shocked to hear such words rattle through the phone. But, given the photos of burning buildings and looted luxury stores just blocks from her home, it actually would have been surprising if she hadn’t decided to buy a gun. Her only choices were to cower in the closet or take some kind of action. And, while ill-conceived California laws meant she could not pick up her new Glock for 10 days, there was comfort in knowing that the countdown was at least on until she would no longer be a sitting duck in her West Hollywood apartment.
The legacy of 2020 will no doubt be the year that the novel coronavirus plagued the world, that unrest rocked urban areas, and that gun sales soared, with nearly five million concerned Americans bearing arms for the first time, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
In the initial week of the widespread closures in March, another friend, John—a 34-year-old extreme athlete from Ireland living in a small Idaho town—texted to say he’d bought a gun for the first time. He opted for a shotgun. It was the unfamiliarity of the situation that had propelled him to wait in a line that ran around the block at a local gun store.
Mychael Waller Sr., of MJ’s Firearms just outside Chicago, Ill., one of the youngest certified firearms dealers and instructors at only 26, said he is working nonstop to serve his clients, who “come from all walks of life” and are “very open about this subject at the moment.”
“We have experienced approximately 75% of the recent purchases to be first-time gun owners,” he said. “I think education and awareness are playing a key role in support of the Second Amendment community and I do expect we will see more support across the board. We are working on making much more training and education available to all, to encourage new gun owners to understand the importance of gun safety.”
Firearms dealers and trainers have pointed out that women of all backgrounds are waking up to the fact that guns genuinely are the great equalizer and perhaps their only lifeline in fighting off an often considerably larger attacker.
Jessica Keffer, marketing manager for The Sportsman’s Shop in East Earl, Penn., said they are seeing over half of their recent purchasers as first-time buyers, the vast majority of whom are women. “Many customers come out and tell us that purchasing a firearm was not something they previously considered,” she said. (To find an instructor near you, go to nrainstructors.org.)