But alongside hand sanitiser and toilet roll, many Americans have decided that – since you can’t be too careful – it’s time to snap up a gun.
Long lines are forming outside gun stores from California to Alabama to New York State, and it’s not just already well-armed gun enthusiasts joining in the rush. One seller in Mesa, AZ told a local TV station that he was seeing an uptick in first-time buyers, as did a store manager in Vallejo, CA.
Reporting from outside a gun store in Cobb County, Georgia, Fox 5’s Patty Pan reported that the owner of a store there had lived through “everything from Ebola to the bird flu” but had “never seen anything like this”, with lines as much as 12 people deep at the gun counter “non-stop for weeks now”.
Ammunition too is flying off the shelves. Online seller Ammo.com has released figures showing a huge surge in sales in the 11 days leading up to 4 March. The top ammunition-buying states were North Carolina and Georgia.
Another online retailer, Widener’s Reloading and Shooting Supply, told the National Rifle Association that by late February, both sales and online traffic had practically doubled since the same time last year.
Some of the surge in sales can be chalked up to a general feeling of paranoia; as one seller said, “Any time people are uneasy, sales go up, and it’s always the same, guns and ammo”. But other Americans are arming themselves for more specific reasons.
One gun shop owner in Arcadia, CA told a local CBS station that his store had seen ten times the usual number of customers – many of them Asian Americans worried that in the event of rising social disorder, they may be targeted because of their ethnicity. Reports of racism directed at Asian Americans have surfaced across the US.
“Relax. You’re doing great,” he said, citing conversations with CEOs of major companies. “There’s no need for anybody in the country to hoard essential food supplies, they said to me. Have a nice dinner, relax, because there’s plenty. You don’t have to buy the quantities, because it’s hard to refill.”
Whether or not Mr Trump would extend that reassurance to cover firearms is unknown, but as gun sales have surged, his outspoken son has weighed in. Pouncing on what he saw as the hypocrisy of gun control advocates, Donald Trump Jr tweeted that many of his “lefty friends” have called him this week with a sudden interest in guns.
He was moved to tweet by an emergency ordinance passed in the central Illinois city of Champaign that grants the mayor sweeping emergency powers, a policy that some on the right – including the National Rifle Association – interpreted as the first step toward a local ban on weapons sales.
The authorities in Champaign deny that they have embarked on some shadowy project to keep guns out of people’s hands altogether. But as more US cities impose strict rules on social distancing, right-wing sites like Breitbart are reporting that more and more citizens are worried about the possibility of civil unrest, it’s hard to see the surge in sales nationwide dropping off any time soon.
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