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'I Do Worry': U.S. Gun Sales Surge As Coronavirus Fears Spread

Charlotte, N.C. (CBS Local) -- Americans are not just lining up to buy toilet paper over coronavirus concerns. They're also flocking to stores to buy guns and ammunition.

Gun shops nationwide are reporting a surge in sales, particularly from first-time gun buyers, as Americans brace for the worst amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Background checks for gun purchases through the FBI system totaled 2.8 million nationally in February, a 36 percent jump compared to the same month in 2019, The New York Times reported.

"We attribute it mainly to the virus scare," said Larry Hyatt, a gun store owner in North Carolina, who says he's selling more than 300 firearms a week, a jump in sales between 30 percent and 40 percent since late February.

"When you're told that the coronavirus is going to get you, and the TV and everything is just swamped with it, people start believing it, and they get scared," said Chuck Lowder, who picked up a rifle at Hyatt Guns last week.

Hyatt says the presidential election and stock market fluctuations have also been driving business.

"People have a little lack of confidence that if something big and bad happens, that 911 might not work. We saw it with [Hurricane] Katrina. People haven't forgotten that a disaster happened, and the government didn't come," he said.

Recent gun sale hikes in Washington State and California also included higher-than-usual numbers of Asian-American customers, some of whom are concerned about racist backlash over the pandemic, which is believed to have originated in China.

David Liu, the owner of Arcadia Firearm & Safety in Arcadia, California, told CBS Los Angeles he's seen as many as 10 times more customers than usual come through the doors of his business.

"Because of coronavirus, a lot of people start to worry," he said.

The San Gabriel Valley has a high concentration of Asian Americans, and Liu said many of his customers are afraid they may be targeted because of their ethnicity if a local outbreak of coronavirus occurs.

"I do worry," said Daniel Lim, who recently bought a gun for his wife at the store.

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