While Guntraders in Redmond sells mostly collectible guns, owner Jerry Koch said that isn’t stopping customers from flocking to his shop in search of a firearm. They’re coming out of fear, Koch said. Customers are fearful of the protests they’ve seen on television, in Portland and across the country.
“I pray for America,” Koch said. “At the start of the pandemic, they came in and we were busy. They were scared then, too. But once the riots started, they started climbing again.”
The pandemic and protests have made 2020 a banner year for gun sales in Oregon, according to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which tracks criminal background checks of gun applicants.
Gun sales are not tracked, but the background checks required for most gun sales are. Still, not every background check results in a gun sale, and some sales are made without going through background checks. For example, guns sold between family members do not require a background check, according to federal guidelines.
In 2020, more than 516,000 guns and background checks for those sales were done in Oregon. In the United States, 39.6 million gun background checks were done in 2020, compared to 23.1 million in 2015.
With so many purchases, the state, which performs its own background checks, is backlogged. In 2019, there were 276,912 background check requests, compared to 2020 when there were 418,061 requests .
That backlog is mostly due to near hits on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System because of incorrect information, missing information or invalid government-issued identification or missing information, Capt. Timothy Fox, an Oregon State Police government and media relations officer, said in an email.
Jefferson County District Attorney Steven Leriche said he was not aware of increased crime being associated with increased firearm sales. But he did say there is a correlation between drug and alcohol use and gun ownership and serious crimes.
“Guns themselves are generally not my worry,” Leriche said. “The combination of drugs being plentiful and guns being plentiful, that’s a worry. We’ve had five murders so far and at least two involve a firearm.”
According to the FBI data, there was a 44% increase in firearm background checks in Oregon from 2019 to 2020 and an 86.9% increase from 2015 to 2020.
Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins said he preferred to have an armed citizenry, as it is difficult sometimes to get to someone in need and they can help themselves.
“Police cannot always be there at the moment they are needed most,” Adkins said. “I always encourage citizens to be more self-reliant.
“Everyone should be prepared with food, water, warmth and self-defense, so they can handle any emergency on their own until help arrives. Sometimes help can be pretty slow. Especially a life-threatening event.”
In Bend, at Hammer Down Firearms, not only are firearms selling rapidly, so is ammunition, said owner Scott Wyke. He agreed with Koch that customers are coming into the store looking for protection because of the recent civil unrest.
For months, protests persisted in Portland that were mostly peaceful. A march drawing several hundred was held in May in downtown Bend to protest the killing of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck. The protest was held in conjunction with a nationwide movement that sparked violence in some cities, including Portland and Eugene.
“All the riots started it,” Wyke said. “Now it’s the Democrats saying they’re going to take our guns away and people are purchasing now. Ammunition is in short supply now.”
Combined with demand are ammunition plant shutdowns or slowdowns caused by efforts to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Sales have been higher than I expected and it’s mostly coming from first-time buyers,” he said.