Long guns on display at NAS Guns & Ammo, on Highway 20. DON RICKERS

Region not immune to wider North American buying spree

It appears that toilet paper and hand sanitizer are not the only commodities dashing out the door in response to the global health crisis.

Wes Winkel, president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, was quoted in the Toronto Star last week saying, “We’re seeing an explosion of ammunition and gun sales,” adding that this is a typical reaction in “these uncertain times.”

The owner/operator of Elwood Epp’s Sporting Goods, a hunting and fishing store north of Orillia, Winkel has locked his doors due to the coronavirus scare, but is still offering online and phone-in orders.

“I’m watching the online orders come in…I haven’t seen numbers like this in years. It’s quite incredible,” he said.

Winkel suggests the surge is due primarily to licensed gun owners who want to have ammunition for hunting and target shooting, but fear the supply from the USA will soon be curtailed due to cross-border trade bans in the wake of the coronavirus. But he also believes there’s some panic-induced purchasing that is a driving force.

“There’s some of that ‘prepper’-type stuff going on,” he said, referring to people with a survivalist mentality who stock provisions in fear of a cataclysmic scenario. Bare aisles in the grocery stores serve to fuel this behavior.

Similarly, and closer to home, NAS Guns & Ammo, on Highway 20, just east of Highway 406, told the Voice that last week’s sales were the best of any week so far in 2020. Rifle, shotgun, and pistol sales have been brisk, along with ammunition sales. Their stock of shells and cartridges was getting low, but they were expecting shipments soon to top up supply. Most of their products are sourced through a Canadian distributor, but are manufactured in the USA, although others come from Mexico, Turkey, and Italy.

Paulette Simmons, with 30 years of firearm sales experience, alongside her husband, who has operated Al Simmons Gun Shop in Hamilton since 1969, told the Voice that the store had done a month’s worth of sales in one week.

She figures there are a variety of reasons for the surge, including fear of a restricted supply, and angst over the coronavirus (including the government’s response to the pandemic).

Gun sales in the USA generally go up during an election year, she said, especially if it appears that a Democrat stands a good chance of reaching the White House. She said that when Donald Trump was elected, he convinced American voters that he is pro-gun and planning no restrictive new firearm policies. Accordingly, citizens felt no need to rush out to buy guns and ammo. Simmons says gun manufacturers referred to the plateaued sales as the “Trump slump.”

However, the coronavirus has changed all that, and there appears to be genuine panic buying of firearms and shooting supplies in some sectors of the US population.

The recent surge in gun sales in Canada has created a government paperwork log jam, said Simmons.

“I was told by the [Canadian Firearms Centre] that there is a four-month wait to get a [Possession and Acquisition License]. For a restricted firearm like a handgun, it’s three weeks for a transfer document, so that you can take it home from the store after your purchase.”

Simmons noted that hunters are loading up now for deer season in the fall, stockpiling high-powered rifle cartridges, and shotgun slugs and buckshot. “It’s the classic worry about supply and demand,” she said.

Some firearm retailers in the USA suggest that the buying frenzy is being fueled by consumers who are worried that people are becoming desperate and unpredictable, and feel the need to ensure they can protect themselves and their families. It appears to be a common concern in big US cities that if the economy tanks, crime will rise.

Canadian Tire in Welland told the Voice that they had sold a higher volume of ammunition than usual recently, but that they still have a good supply on hand. They also stock a selection of rifles and shotguns.

A call to Bass Pro Shop in Niagara on the Lake was redirected three times, with an employee finally suggesting that the Voice contact the company’s head office in Springfield, Missouri. Email and voicemail requests for comment were not acknowledged.

Walmart in Welland no longer stocks firearms and ammunition, although they do sell airguns and pellets, as does Minor Bros., on Highway 20 just east of the Pelham line.