PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — 2020, the year like no other, was a banner year for gun sales in America.
WAVY-TV 10 started tracking gun sales in the spring of last year as it became apparent pandemic fears were sending many to gun shops.
Gun sales continued to soar as the summer of 2020 brought thousands to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died at the hands of police in Minneapolis. That unrest was followed by a tumultuous presidential election season that ended with a violent insurrection at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6.
The nationwide gun sales trend continues. Some retailers say their shelves are practically bare. Virginia gun lobbyist Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is tracking sales across the country.
“There are five million new gun owners that came online in a few months in the United States,” said Van Cleave.
Add another 35 million, and you get the scope of gun sales for 2020. According to data from the FBI, 2019 saw 28.3 million gun sales and the previous election year saw 27.5 million sales.
The general manager of a gun shop in Virginia Beach told 10 On Your Side he has only a half dozen of one line of weapons and manufacturer Sig Sauer has an order lead time of eight months.
Retailers and the head of Virginia Citizens Defense League also say ammunition is hard to find and prices have skyrocketed.
“It’s so hard to find ammunition right now. You can go to a big store that used to stock massive amounts and you are lucky if they have anything on the shelves. Prices are double and triple what they were just a few months ago. Firearms are hard to find they are still available, but not like they were and the prices have gone up on some of those,” said Van Cleave.
Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that compiles daily data on violence in America, reported that nearly 20,000 people were killed in 2020 because of gun-related violence. Violent crime in the nation’s major cities increased by 37% percent last year.
In a recent interview, Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone told WAVY-TV 10 society had failed in curbing gun violence last year. In August, 1-month-old Honesty Brehon became the youngest victim of gun violence in modern Norfolk history. A 20-year-old suspected gang member is accused of using an assault-style weapon to injure Honesty and four adults.
Van Cleave, who recently hosted a rolling protest of gun control laws in Virginia, says restrictions on gun sales do nothing to make the streets safer.
“Crime is crime — that’s why we believe people should carry a gun for self-defense — because it doesn’t matter how the criminal got the gun. All that matters: he’s about to kill you and are you going to let him kill you or are you going to fight back and save your life?” said Van Cleave.