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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / David Smith, owner of Dave's Shooting Supply in Red Bank, cleans a rifle in his store on March 24. Shooting supply stores across the country have seen a spike in sales from concerns over COVID-19.

In January, gun company leaders gathered in Las Vegas for their annual conference during a period of depressed revenues and fear for the future of the industry. The Associated Press reported industry leaders were voicing concerns about pending legislation to restrict gun rights and how public pressure was hurting sales.

Less than two months later, those industry concerns are gone.

Sales at gun and ammunition stores across the nation surged in the past weeks as entire states declared emergencies, companies shut down and grocery store shelves went bare over fears about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Throughout Chattanooga, stores are selling out of handguns. Multiple stores reported being unable to keep 9 mm ammunition on the shelf. People were literally taking numbers for the next shipment.

David Smith, owner of Dave's Shooting Supply in Red Bank, said his business got busier every day last week. The store was quickly breaking one-day sales records, including around 2,000 rounds of ammunition on Tuesday, he said. The store limited people at first to two 50-round bags of ammunition, then dropped the limit to one bag per person, Smith said. An inventory of ammunition that would have otherwise lasted a month was moving in a day.

By Saturday, there was a line waiting at the door when the store opened.

"Every day the record was broken, from Monday to Saturday," Smith said.

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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / David Smith, owner of Dave's Shooting Supply in Red Bank, cleans a rifle in his store on March 24. Shooting supply stores across the country have seen a spike in sales from concerns over COVID-19.

Gun sales also spiked across the state. The Tennessee Instant Check System, run by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, processed more than 14,600 background checks between March 12 and 16, nearly double that of the same period a month earlier, according to a TBI statement.

A total for sales in March will not be available until next month. However, the Associated Press reported nationwide background checks are up over last year with just over 5.5 million checks conducted in January and February, according to FBI data.

Robin Flores, a local attorney, went to buy several handguns on March 19, but his application was delayed for hours. Flores, who owns several guns, said he had never experienced a delay like that. The attorney had to return to the store the next day, after he was approved, to pick up his purchase, he said.

The TBI said the problem was the culmination of a series of events. First was the spike in background check requests across the state. Secondly, TBI staffing was limited that day after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 and the office needed to be cleaned. Third, there was an unplanned hourlong outage in the system, according to a TBI statement.

There is fear that with many cities being shut down and widespread layoffs, there will be an increase in crime, according to the Associated Press. Smith said many of the customers at his store over the past week were buying guns or stocking up on ammunition for protection.

"Protection was probably 85 to 90 percent of why they were buying, because everyone was scared things would be locked down and people would start breaking in," Smith said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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