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State police numbers suggest spike in Virginia gun sales in recent months

Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave

(The Center Square) – With riots breaking out across the country and COVID-19 causing economic uncertainty, gun sales in Virginia appear to be on the rise, according to numbers from the Virginia State Police.

The Firearms Transaction Center tallied a 158 percent increase in firearm transactions in June 2020 (81,204 transactions) compared with June 2019 (31,501).

Transactions also were up in April and May. April had 62,620 transactions compared with 32,663 in April 2019, and May saw 56,526 transactions compared with 28,425 the previous May.

This year’s transactions already have come close to last year’s total. From Jan. 1 to July 2, 410,493 transactions took place. Last year’s total was 484,550 transactions.

Virginia also saw a spike in gun sales toward the end of last year after Democrats announced their gun-control agenda, most of which was passed by the General Assembly last spring and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The numbers do not directly reflect the total number of guns sold because more than one gun may be purchased in a transaction, Virginia State Police Public Relations Manager Corinne Geller the told The Center Square. The number measures how many background checks were requested by a federally licensed gun dealer.

“People are buying guns in record numbers because they’re scared of what’s happening across the country,” Gun Owners of America Senior Vice president Erich Pratt told The Center Square in an email.

“They are scared of looters and rioters; they are worried that police may not be able to protect them,” Pratt said. “People want the ability to defend themselves. Just last week, an armed motorist in Indiana used his firearm to stop a mass shooter in his tracks. People intuitively realize that guns save lives. And in an environment where the police are outnumbered, or hindered from doing their jobs, people will acquire firearms for their own self-defense. They are doing this at an unparalleled rate, despite efforts by elected Democrats to inhibit them from exercising their constitutionally-protected rights.”

Andrew Goddard, the legislative director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, feels differently, however.

“I find it disturbing that so many people are reacting to [COVID-19], the protests over police brutality and the new gun violence prevention laws just enacted by rushing out to buy guns,” Goddard told The Center Square in an email.

“Guns are of no particular value in relation to the pandemic, you can’t protect yourself from a virus with a gun,” Goddard said. “The protests over police brutality towards people of color pose no threat to anyone in particular, so getting a gun, or another gun in many cases, is not going to do any good. … It seems that too many Americans think there is no problem that we can’t shoot our way out of. The reality is that along with the increased sales we are already seeing increased deaths and injuries. Having guns in the home greatly decreases your safety and the safety of your family members. That is the hard truth that always gets downplayed or ignored.”

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, told The Center Square people are starting to notice police officers might not always be able to protect them. He said some police have been unable to stop rioters, and COVID-19 could lead to sick officers or a disruption in the supply chain that could cause problems.

“It’s a good thing [that firearm sales are going up],” Van Cleave said. “People are waking up.”

Van Cleave said many areas with the highest crime rates have the strictest gun control measures. He said Virginia has lower rates than its neighbors in Washington and southern Maryland. More gun purchases in Virginia likely will mean less crime because criminals will have to worry about their prospective victims owning guns, he said.

Van Cleave said more people “waking up” negatively could affect lawmakers who have been advocating gun control in future elections.

After Democrats flipped both chambers of the General Assembly from red to blue last November, lawmakers approved several elements of Northam’s gun control agenda, which included expanded background checks, red-flag laws and a one-handgun-per-month limit for certain purchasers. Democrats failed to get enough support for an assault weapons ban after some moderate Democrats objected.

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