People wait in a line to enter a gun store in Culver City, Calif., Sunday, March 15, 2020. Coronavirus concerns have led to consumer panic buying of grocery staples and now gun stores are seeing a similar run on weapons and ammunition as panic intensifies.
CNN  — 

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From Kentucky to Arizona to upstate New York to California, the story is the same: The spread of the coronavirus has created a run of both guns and ammunition the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the eve of the 2016 election.

According to, an online retailer of ammunition, there have been massive increases in its ammo sales over the past month (as compared with the month prior, when coronavirus was still a bit of a theoretical threat to most Americans). In Colorado, it says, its ammunition sales were up more than 1,000%. That number was as high as 945% in Arizona and 897% in Ohio.

“While people have stockpiled toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and pantry essentials, they’ve also purchased ammunition at an unprecedented rate,” reads the site.

In Texas there is a debate among the state’s politicians whether gun shops qualify as “essential” businesses, meaning that, if they did, they would be allowed to remain open amid shelter-in-place warnings like the one in Dallas County presently.

All of which raises a basic question: Why?

The answer, if past is prologue, is fear – although maybe not the same fear that has driven past booms in gun and ammo sales.

The rise in gun sales in advance of the 2016 presidential election was driven by fears among gun owners that if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won, she would seek to use the levers of government to round up privately owned guns. (One gun manufacturing executive told CNN in the fall of 2016 that sales were driven by Clinton “actively campaigning against the lawful commerce in arms.”)

Why were people so concerned? Because then-candidate Donald Trump – from at least May 2016 on – relentlessly pushed the idea that, if elected, Clinton had a secret plan to take away their guns.

“Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment,” Trump said at a rally in Washington state way back then. “Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away and she wants to abolish the Second Amendment.”

Despite Trump including the line in a multitude of speeches during the closing months of the campaign, independent fact-checkers have rated the claim as false.

“We found no evidence of Clinton ever saying verbatim or suggesting explicitly that she wants to abolish the Second Amendment, and the bulk of Clinton’s comments suggest the opposite,” read PolitiFact’s write-up of the issue. “She has repeatedly said she wants to protect the right to bear arms while enacting measures to prevent gun violence.”

(Sidebar: This is not a phenomenon unique to Clinton-Trump. In 2016, a CNN headline, “Barack Obama is the best gun salesman in America,” noted that fears of what the Democratic President might do on guns in the wake of ever-increasing incidents of mass violence committed with guns drove sales through the roof.)

The fear driving gun sales over this past month isn’t about what a politician might do in terms of gun rights. After all, Trump has repeatedly expressed his love for the Second Amendment during his presidency. In March 2018, he tweeted this:

“THE SECOND AMENDMENT WILL NEVER BE REPEALED! As much as Democrats would like to see this happen, and despite the words yesterday of former Supreme Court Justice Stevens, NO WAY. We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!”

Rather, it appears to be driven by worries that the spread of coronavirus – and the food and toilet paper hoarding it has occasioned – across the United States will lead to some sort of broader societal breakdown in which people will be required to defend themselves and their families from ravaging hordes.

“You got to be protected for all sorts of stuff,” a gun shop owner in Oklahoma told the Los Angeles Times. “Seems like the world has gone mad.”

In a recent Monmouth University national poll, almost 6 in 10 Americans said, unprompted, that coronavirus was the “biggest concern facing your family right now.” (“Job security/unemployment” was the second biggest concern, registering 7%.)

Seen through that lens, buying guns and ammo appears to be a way for many Americans to address the fear and anxiety they are feeling as the country faces down a virus that we have never seen before. Human nature is a funny thing.