MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gun advocates say Minnesotans bought thousands of self-defense firearms last month in response to potential civil unrest that could be spurred by the global coronavirus pandemic.
The FBI conducted background checks on 96,654 transactions in Minnesota last month, the most ever in the state for a single month. That number is part of a record 3.7 million background checks processed nationwide, a local news outlet reported.
"Our number one seller is home-defense shotguns," said Kory Krause, who owns Frontiersman gun store in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.
"In the event the outbreak gets worse and civil unrest breaks out, wanting to protect their family and their stockpile is really the vibe we're getting from people," he said.
Krause and other gun advocates say more people than ever are buying shotguns and handguns for self-defense instead of military-style rifles that become popular when buyers worry that they may be outlawed.
A 2015 state bill protects gun stores from being deemed nonessential.
The St. Louis Park Police Department processed five times as many permits to purchase firearms last month than in the average month last year.
Pequot Lakes resident Josh Gazelka said he bought a pistol at a nearby Fleet Farm as the stock of firearms and ammunition began dwindling.
Gazelka, 26, expressed uncertainty over the economic and societal effects of Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home orders. Gazelka's wife is nine-months pregnant, and he said he's thought about safeguarding his home if conditions exacerbate.
"I don't expect my neighbor to attack me, but if I have to protect my family I want to be able to," Gazelka said.
The rise in firearm demand is also confusing sheriffs across the state because gun permit applications must be processed in-person. Many offices that used public-facing service windows have closed.
"They feel that they could be in violation (of Walz's stay-at-home order) and don't want to subject travelers or their staff to the potential virus," said Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs' Association, which recently sought state guidance on how to take applications.
Federally licensed sellers can choose to provide firearms to people if a background check takes longer than three days to complete.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and 15 other Democratic senators urged the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to tell sellers to hold off on providing guns until background checks are cleared.
They fear that guns will fall into the hands of people barred from owning them.
In 2018, more than 270,000 background checks weren't completed within three business days, the senators said, which led to more than 4,800 guns going to people who were later discovered not qualified to own firearms.
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