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Baytown Eagle Guns and Ammo employee Ronald Anders sells a handgun to Joe Nieto Saturday morning. 

For the last couple of weeks, shoppers have been reeling from the empty shelves at grocery stores. Toilet paper and Lysol have become precious as gold. 

At the same time, a rush on guns and ammo has retailers scrambling to restock supplies. Written on a piece of cardboard box outside of Baytown Eagle Guns and Ammo is a lengthy list of ammunition that is sold out. At Academy, there are two lines, one for regular retail and one for gun sales. Which line is longer is often a toss-up.

Terry Lindsey, the owner of Baytown Eagle Guns and Ammo, has been in the business for 13 years. While there have been times people have made a run on guns and ammo, the pandemic is unique. 

On a typical day, there might be 15 to 20 people in the store during a day. Then came the coronavirus. Prior to limiting one customer in the store for social distancing reasons, there were 10 to 15 at a time.

“It has been pretty busy,” he said. “It began Friday about a week ago and it has been busy every since. We have sold mostly handguns and shotguns. The rifles have been slow other than the AR-15’s.”

Getting restocked has been a slow ordeal as the suppliers have had trouble getting hands on guns themselves. Lindsey said some guns came in on Wednesday and it is coming in slow. As far as ammunition, demand has overwhelmed supply.

“This time has been busier than I have ever seen,” Lindsey said. “We are out and I can’t even get any. We ran out last Friday and we have not been able to get any since.

“The suppliers are just waiting on it themselves. They have just a little trickle in and the first served gets it.”

Lindsey said the last time he had something this similar was when Barack Obama was elected president. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a legal opinion Friday saying that emergency orders in Texas can’t restrict gun stores. Any order that excludes gun stores from “essential” businesses that can stay open are in conflict with state law banning limits on gun sales, Paxton said.

“Under our laws, every Texan retains their right to purchase and possess firearms,” he said.

Guns shows, however  — like other mass gatherings in the age of coronavirus — are being canceled.

The ongoing gun run is a nationwide trend. 

In recent weeks, U.S. firearm sales have skyrocketed. Background checks — the key barometer of gun sales — already were at record numbers in January and February, likely fueled by a presidential election year. 

Background checks were up 300% on March 16, compared with the same date a year ago, according to federal data shared with the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gunmakers. Since Feb. 23, each day has seen roughly double the volume over 2019, according to Mark Oliva, spokesman for the group. 

The federal background check system has been overwhelmed by the massive increase in firearm sales. What might normally take a few minutes is taking much longer, and a backlog on background checks has ballooned to about 80,000, Oliva said. 

If a background check takes longer than three business days, gun dealers are permitted to allow the sale to go through unless a state has stricter waiting periods. But the National Shooting Sports Foundation has advised gun dealers not to feel beholden to complete the sale if they have concerns about the potential buyer.

There are several reasons why there is a rush on guns and ammunition. People have safety concerns as unemployment is rising. Lindsey said a number of his customers want to be armed to protect families against potential robbers. There are also concerns about inmates being released early to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the jails. 

It all leads to a variety of shoppers.

“Some of them are first time gun buyers,” Lindsey said. “Maybe 15 percent. A lot of them have had shotguns before. They don’t have one now and felt like it was a good time to get one now. They just want it for the house.”

With Associated Press files

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