In May in the small, middle-class town of Fishkill, New York, Andreyah Garland bought a shotgun for protection.
Garland is a 44-year-old single mother of three daughters. She also registered for a permit to own a pistol, a small handgun. And she joined a new and fast-growing local gun club to learn how to shoot.
“With everything going on around us,” she said, “you see a need.”
Garland, like many other first-time gun buyers, is helping to fuel record sales for the U.S. gun industry this year.
Until recently, many of these men and women would not have thought about gun ownership, write reporters Tim McLaughlin and Melissa Fares. They spoke with industry experts, public health researchers, gun store owners and gun buyers for Reuters news agency.
First-time gun owners gave different reasons for their decision. These include news about the coronavirus health crisis, social unrest, and fear over violent political divisions.
Events fueling fears of gun-control legislation also have been driving surges in gun sales in recent years. Industry experts and researchers say surges often result from purchases by white, male, and politically conservative Americans. They usually already own one or more guns.
However, this year that market is widening to include many women, minorities, and politically liberal people.
Another first-time gun owner is 61-year-old Bailey Beeken. She lives in Riverdale, New York and describes herself as a white, politically liberal, middle-class woman. Beeken started taking shooting lessons this year, she said, because “whichever way the election goes, it could get really scary, and it could get bloody.”
In recent months, protests have added to social tensions. There have been COVID-19-related demonstrations with people wearing face masks clashing with mask protesters. Demonstrations against police violence have led to street clashes.
Jared Carlson designs, makes, or repairs small firearms in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Carlson said he has received a lot of calls from would-be gun buyers who cannot find guns or ammunition at stores.
Dan Eldridge is the owner of Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Illinois. He noted that, “people who don’t normally think about firearms” are being forced to think about something outside their normal world.
Mark Peter Smith is Chief Operating Officer at Smith & Wesson Brands, a major gun manufacturer. In a September 3 conference call with investors, Smith estimated that new gun buyers made up about 40 percent of the company’s sales this year.
He called that estimate conservative. And he noted that the number of new buyers is “double the national average” in past years.
Andreyah Garland is a Black woman and a registered Democrat who voted for Barack Obama. She says she has not decided how to vote in the presidential election. She expressed deep dissatisfaction with the two main political parties.
Garland is one of about 125 members in the new Hudson Valley Nubian Gun Club. More than half of its members are female and more than two-thirds are Black, including the founder, Damon Finch.
Finch said he launched the club in March, as news of the coronavirus spread. He saw another surge in interest after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, after he was detained by police. Finch told Reuters he now gets 15 calls or emails a day from people asking about joining or getting gun safety training.
Many ask him: “How do I use this tool if - God forbid - I ever have to defend my family?”
Wanting to defend oneself and one’s family is often stated as a reason for owning a gun. However, researchers say an increase in gun sales can lead to more gun deaths.
Professor David Hemenway teaches public policy at Harvard University. He told Reuters there is plenty of evidence linking gun ownership to gun violence. Having a gun in the house, he said, greatly increases a risk of suicide, shooting accidents, and violence against those living in that house.
But a fear of guns may not be enough to keep some people from buying them.
Eugene Buff, who is Jewish and politically conservative, lives in Massachusetts. This summer he wrote on Facebook that he has a permit to provide firearms lessons.
His first class filled up quickly. His students were mostly older Jewish people who feared for their safety because of the coronavirus pandemic and attacks at Jewish religious centers.
Buff told Reuters, “A lot of them didn’t like guns and feared them,” he said. Now, however, a need for protection has outweighed those fears.
Benjamin Dowd-Arrow is a professor of public health at Florida State University. In these times, he said, many buyers -- both liberals and conservatives -- think of themselves as the “good guys” protecting themselves from “bad guys.”
“So,” he said, “all the ‘good guys’ need to go out and buy a gun.”
I’m Anna Matteo.
And I’m Bryan Lynn.
Reporting by Tim McLaughlin and Melissa Fares reported this story for Reuters News Agency. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the VOA editor.
Words in This Story
pistol – n. a small gun made to be aimed and fired with one hand
club – n. the place where the members of a club meet
surge – n. a sudden, large increase : v. to suddenly increase to an unusually high level
lesson – n. an activity that you do in order to learn something also : something that is taught
scary – adj. causing fear
mask – n. a covering used to protect your face or cover your mouth
forbid – v. to order (someone) not to do something