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RECOIL Staff Roundup: Pandemic Report

Powderhorn Sports employee Bill Baily helps Peter Garnot trade in rifle for a Savage Saber in 6.5 Creedmoor in Williston, Vermont. Baily says he was trading in his Mossberg rifle that has a traditional stock because he wanted a rifle with the versatility of a chassis.

Here at RECOIL and OFFGRID, working from home is nothing new, as our staffers and freelancers are spread out across this great nation. We've asked each of them to chime in with a report from their own turf, to bring you unbiased news from the front lines of the current crisis.

Arizona

We have it from a good source that the governor is about to close all non-essential business and use the National Guard to impose a curfew. Our friends on the various urban PD's report an increase in domestic violence calls, as people are spending more time at home. Chatter on one local ham radio repeater revealed discussions about ammunition stockpile and home fortifications. Gun stores are sold out of most everything, with a notable run on 9mm handguns and ammo. Public land north of Phoenix is dotted with RVs and campers – with many businesses already shut down, residents are combining a little R&R with social distancing.

In the southern part of the state, grocery stores are feeling the strain with entire aisles emptied out by panic-buyers. Paper goods, household cleaners/disinfectants, canned goods, dairy and meat seem to be the most commonly out-of-stock items. There has been a notable rise in armed robbery, and some retail stores have reportedly begun offering to pay off-duty law enforcement officers to serve as temporary armed security guards. One sheriff's deputy stated that it has been “homicide after homicide lately” in his jurisdiction, but explained that a surprising number of these incidents have not involved guns — in several cases, victims were run down by vehicles.

Our personal favorite was a police scanner report out of Tucson about a group of people trying to cut down a telephone pole with an ax. Gun stores are doing record business, in some cases doubling their black Friday weekend hauls in a single day of sales. Some stores in the area are rationing ammo purchases, but our contacts at the The Hub Tucson say you are free to buy as much as you can afford — or as much as they have. Whichever limits you first.

Many bare shelves in AZ gun stores

Gun store shelves are bare in AZ, picked clean by those concerned for their own safety.

California

Along with Washington and New York, California is one of the hardest-hit states in the union. On Sunday, 22 March, President Trump announced federal funding for the National Guard in all three states, stating that “the federal government will be funding 100% of the cost of deploying national guard units to carry out approved missions to stop the virus while those governors remain in command.” He stressed that this wasn't martial law and that the activated National Guard troops would remain under the operational control of the respective governors. Trump also approved a major disaster declaration for California, joining New York and Washington, which will simplify the provision of supplies to those states.

On 19 March, Governor Newsom issued a “Stay-At-Home” order, directing all California residents to stay in their residences, except for essential travel or work. This followed similar directives from major metropolitan areas in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Services deemed essential, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks, laundromats, and certain government functions, can remain open. Restaurants can continue to operate for take-out and delivery only. Dine-in, bars and nightclubs, entertainment venues, gyms, public events, gatherings, and hair and nail salons, among others, are to remain closed. The measure is in force until further notice.

Spending time outdoors isn't prohibited, with residents instructed to maintain sufficient distance from others while walking, hiking, or exercising. However, while traffic on freeways and streets has been eerily light, many Californians took the opportunity during a sunny respite from the rain this weekend to clog local beaches, parks, and other destinations with crowds. As a result, many municipalities are taking actions to further discourage crowds by closing off public areas, eliminating public parking, and so forth.

Grocery, big box, and warehouse stores have seen long lines and empty shelves over the recent weeks, with most stores we've seen restricting the number of customers inside and imposing quantity limitations on many types of items. While many shelves remain bare, we have seen some desirable items like meat, vegetables, and dairy being restocked to some extent in local stores. Many stores are reserving certain blocks of time for at-risk customers like the elderly to be able to shop for goods.

Meanwhile, various jurisdictions across California have been releasing inmates early and modifying sentences, hoping to reduce the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in the prison population. Law enforcement agencies have also reportedly been reducing arrests. For example, the Los Angeles Sheriff recently stated that he had reduced the prison population by 600 inmates and weekend arrests had dropped from 300 to 60.

Not surprisingly, gun stores in California have been hammered, with many first-time gun buyers in California realizing that they might actually be responsible for their own safety and finally understanding the reality of the existing gun laws and the misleading rhetoric from anti-gun groups and politicians. “Wait, you mean I can't just buy a gun directly off the Internet?” “I have to wait ten days before I can pick up this gun? Why? I can't just pay an extra fee to expedite the process?” “What about that gun show loophole, how can I buy a gun via the loophole? Can I just go to Arizona and buy a gun? What, there's no actual loophole?!”

Update (3/24/20): the Los Angeles County Sheriff declared that gun stores are “non-essential” businesses and forced them to close, adding that 1,300 deputies are being added to patrol, while 1,700 “non-violent inmates” have been released from county jails.

Ohio

Governor Mike DeWine has been at the national forefront of COVID-19 prevention. Ohio was the first state to close large public gatherings and increase mobility restrictions, and other states have followed suit. This started by shutting down the Arnold Classic fitness competitions, followed by Saint Patrick's Day celebrations, and eventually any and all gatherings over ten people.

At 11:59pm on March 23, 2020, all residents will have a ‘stay-in-place' order, with only essential services remaining open. What constitutes as “essential” is currently being debated by many business owners, but it's generally accepted that medical centers/pharmacies, grocery stores, and gas stations all count, albeit with reduced hours. Most gas stations will only be open for 8 hours, and even Walmart will only be open from 7am  to 8:30pm, with special times for seniors.

The reduction in hours means two things: First, stores will be able to replenish shelves without being swarmed by customers. Second, it creates a de facto curfew, since no stores will be open after 10pm. A list of revised hours in central Ohio can be found here. Being out and about without a valid reason will currently be a Class II misdemeanor.

In contrast to Arizona, reports of domestic violence have actually decreased in some areas but, by no means, have instances ceased. A local CPS worker told us they're prepping for a large increase in cases as children are all now home. Every gun shop is empty, particularly of any rifle in 5.56mm and all 5.56mm ammunition. Most handguns under $1,000 are not on shelves. AKs and SKSs chambered in 7.62×39 are available in some stores at a premium, but ammunition and magazines are harder to come by. Of course that will legally change tomorrow, though some locations vow they will remain open. When and how that ends remains to be seen.

Law enforcement agencies in northeastern Ohio are warning of scammers dressed in Tyvek suits selling fake COVID-19 test kits, playing on peoples' fears.

People wait outside Powderhorn Sports in Williston, Vermont, where the temperature is about 30 degrees, to shop for firearms and ammunition. The shop is limiting the number of people allowed into keep things orderly and to comply with social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC.

Vermont

Despite an overnight rise in Coronavirus cases, up from 52 to 75 in a day, things are very civil here in the Green Mountain state. There are currently 5 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. The state government has been acting to slow the spread of COVID-19, with Governor Phil Scott declaring a state of emergency on March 13th. On March 15th, he closed Vermont's public schools, the closure of bars and restaurant dining rooms, and announced a moratorium on gatherings of 250 people or more. By March 19th that number ratcheted down to gatherings of ten people or more and the state declared all close-contact businesses, such as hair dressers and gyms to temporarily shut down.

Grocery and drug stores are open and most staples are available, excluding toilet paper, disinfectants, and oral thermometers. Pasta, rice, and beans, and bread are all heavily picked over, but not empty. Fresh fruits and vegetables are in stock, but not bountiful.

Today, March 23, the University of Vermont told all remaining students on campus to go home and not to expect to return for graduation. The Scott administration said in a news release that businesses would not need to pay meals and rooms or sales and use tax “until further notice.” The state also suspended penalties for late tax payments and gave Vermont citizens and business until July 15th to pay taxes. Just about every event, statewide is cancelled.


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Conversations with a few law enforcement officers around the state suggest, at least anecdotally, that the amount of crime happening now is on par with pre-COVID-19 levels. Law enforcement is trying to limit face to face contact and deal with civil issues over the phone in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. That also means the bar for getting pulled over for a traffic violation is somewhat reduced.

On the gun store front, we reached out to two of northern Vermont's busiest shops, Powderhorn Outdoor Sports Center in Williston and Parro's Gun Shop in Waterbury.

Powderhorn is a busy shop on a slow day, and today we found a line of 11 customers waiting to get into the shop, with a handful already inside and shopping. The staff is limiting the numbers to keep things orderly as they sell through stocks of firearms and ammo in record numbers.

At Powderhorn, the rush began Monday, March 16 according to manager Loren Bleau. He says, “we're probably selling 50-60 guns a day [since last Monday.]”

He said shotguns and defensive shotgun loads were the first to sell out. Then, 9mm ammo followed. Demand for handguns has also been incredible, with a recent shipment of four 9mm Glock pistols, a G17, G19, and two G26s, representing the unused pistol inventory in the handgun case.

“Ammo's been going crazy, says Bleau, “I want to say Thursday, we sold 8,000 rounds of 9mm by 1pm… and we opened at 10am. Friday, we sold about 30 half-cases (500 rounds) of .223.”

“Places don't have have buckshot. They don't have slugs. They don't have lead shot to buy,” Bleau says about shops around the state. “People are buying turkey loads, waterfowl loads. They're buying everything that they can get their hands on for shotgun shells.”

One of the most interesting things he's noticed during this time is the number of people that show up at the shop to buy a gun and don't know they have to have identification to complete their purchase. Along that line, he says first time gun buyers make up about 40% of the recent COVID-19 buying rush.

He says the shop isn't overwhelmed, but asks people shopping for guns to be patient, “Stuff's coming in, it's coming in slowly. But, if I get anything in today, then I'll be coming in early tomorrow to try and get to it so it's out when we first open. We're trying to stash ammo so that if people buy a gun they can at least have ammo for it.”

Henry Parro, the owner of Parro's Gun shop says they haven't begun limiting the number of shoppers in the store or changed operating hours. When asked about the number of shoppers and sales estimates, he says sales are up well more than 200% from a month ago. And, 60% of his COVID-19 rush is 60% first-time gun buyers.

He notes that his customers aren't worried about the virus itself, but the crime that could come as the outbreak grows.

For him, the first thing to go was 9mm ammo. Then, Parro says, he saw the focus shift to shotguns. “Customers come in and say ‘I need a 12 gauge pump action shotgun for home defense.' Those things just went off; shotguns and buckshot.”

When it came to pistols, with the 9mm handguns and ammo gone, he offered customers an alternative. “Luckily,” says Parro, “we had hundreds of police trade-in Glocks in .40 and .45. And we had probably a hundred cases of ammo for them in total. We started this whole thing with about 500 used trade-in guns, and have about 20 or 25 left.”

Asked to characterize if what his shop was experiencing was a manageable sales spike or a full-on unsustainable rush, he says, “Well, I can't pick up the phone and order a pallet of 9mm. But, it's filtering in because we started hammering our distributors with orders last week. But, so far we're getting deliveries. We just got in ammo and guns. We just had some Smith & Wesson 9mms come in.”

Parro guardedly adds, “We're in pretty good shape.”

“I've got a Scattergun Technologies 870 coming,” he says, “I have all kinds of stuff coming… a [Savage] Muddy Girl coming… not the best for it, but if the zombies come, I don't think they're gonna shy away from a 2o-gauge Muddy Girl.


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