NC gun sales spiked in March. Was there a ‘secret ingredient’ fueling the rise?

Joe Marusak
·4 min read

The FBI in March conducted its highest number of background checks this year on North Carolina firearms buyers, a Charlotte Observer analysis of FBI data shows.

The agency conducted 90,090 firearms background checks last month in North Carolina, up from 72,430 in February and 86,017 in January, FBI data shows.

And the owner of a Charlotte store that bills itself as “America’s largest gun shop” said a “secret ingredient” from the U.S. government may explain why demand was up.

People were already on edge because of recent mass shootings in the country and talk in Congress of more gun laws, Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns on Wilkinson Boulevard told the Observer.

“They talked about more gun laws, and people read into it that ‘I better get my gun now,’” Hyatt said. “’I might not be able to get one later.’

“And then they sent out $1,400 to buy one,” Hyatt said of federal stimulus checks deposited in taxpayer accounts. “That was the secret ingredient we didn’t have before.”

“None of the laws they’re proposing are way out there, but a lot of times, the message gets lost in the details,” he said.

Internet sales at his 62-year-old store during a week in March broke the previous weekly mark, set last summer, by 25%, he said.

Those sales included everything from handguns to rifles and shotguns, Hyatt said.

Recent mass shootings

A spate of mass shootings have occurred across the U.S. in recent weeks, including:

On Wednesday, when former NFL player Phillip Adams fatally shot five people and wounded a sixth after barging into the home of a Rock Hill, S.C., doctor, authorities said. Adams, a Rock Hill native, killed himself in his family’s nearby home.

On Thursday, a gunman shot and wounded six people at a business in Bryan, Texas, some critically wounded.

On March 22, a 21-year-old gunman was accused of killing 10 people at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., including a 51-year-old police officer.

And March 16, a 21-year-old gunman was arrested after eight people were killed at three Asian-owned spas in Atlanta and nearby Cherokee County, Ga.

FBI background checks soar

The FBI in North Carolina conducts background checks on buyers of long guns, including rifles and shotguns, while sheriff’s offices issue both permits to buy and carry a gun and to carry a concealed handgun.

Hyatt Gun Shop salesmen Ted Shore, right, and Ian Mahathey assemble a shotgun for a customer on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. The store is seeing unprecedented demand for guns and ammunition, owner Larry Hyatt said.
Hyatt Gun Shop salesmen Ted Shore, right, and Ian Mahathey assemble a shotgun for a customer on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. The store is seeing unprecedented demand for guns and ammunition, owner Larry Hyatt said.

The March number neared 2020’s highest count of 90,593 in June, which nearly doubled the highest monthly number of checks in each previous year through 2015, according to the data.

The agency doesn’t break down the numbers by city and town.

Nationwide, the FBI also conducted more background checks for firearm purchases in March than it did in January and February, CNN reported.

North Carolina also requires federal background checks for private sales of handguns, but not private sales of rifles and shotguns, The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported. Private sales don’t include buying from a licensed dealer.

Backlog at Sheriff’s Office

Further highlighting the ongoing demand for guns:

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office continues to experience “a significant increase” in the number of applicants for both pistol purchase permits and concealed handgun permits, according to its website.

According to the site, the Sheriff’s Office currently is processing applications received in early to mid-November. Later numbers were not immediately available.

The FBI numbers mirrored what’s happening at such shops as Hyatt Guns, which Larry Hyatt said saw a dip in sales in February.

In March, demand was so great that “we had a tremendous number of lost sales because we didn’t have product,” Hyatt said. “We’re still going through that as we speak, but not quite as high.”

Buying guns for security

People are buying “security shotguns,” for instance, “because they’re a good home defense gun,” he said.

Because of the handgun permit-processing backlog at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, some people bought a shotgun “in the interim,” according to Hyatt.

Charlotte-area sheriff’s offices have experienced backlogs of two to six months this year, the Observer previously reported.

The March spike “was not a hunting event,” Hyatt said. “This was for self-protection.”

“Listen to the public,” he said. “They’re still afraid of so many little things going on.”

First-time handgun buyer Tamara Schaeffer told the Observer in January that three homicides in her Revolution Park neighborhood along West Boulevard and Remount Road finally convinced her to get a firearm.

Schaeffer, a 45-year-old single mom and Harris Teeter deli worker, said she won’t let her 16-year-old son walk to the nearby Family Dollar. She holds a can of Mace wherever she goes, including as she pumps gas at the local Quik Trip.

“Every night we hear gunshots,” she said. “That’s normal.”

“All walks of life and a lot of first-time buyers” explain the higher sales, Hyatt said. “Sometimes they’re people who don’t like guns but feel they need one.”

“It would be nice for our country to have a nice calm year,” he said.