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Maui gun sales spike amid COVID-19 concerns

Residents picking up ‘anything they can get’ at local firearm retailers

Customers wait to check out Thursday at Maui Ammo & Gun Supply in Wailuku. While some are stocking up on toilet paper and sanitizers amid the coronavirus pandemic, many are buying guns and ammunition, causing sales to soar locally in recent weeks. — The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

WAILUKU — Maui gun sales have been soaring, with customer traffic shooting up fivefold, local stores reported Thursday.

A line of 12 to 20 people snaked outside Maui Ammo & Gun Supply in the hot midday sun Thursday in the Wailuku industrial area.

Those waiting to get into the store, some for more than an hour, included parents with their kids; a former military man; a local hunter; a firefighter and his wife; a Hawaii native who practices subsistence living; and a couple who said that they are against vaccines and that coronavirus is made up by the government to control people.

All eight customers interviewed said they wanted to protect themselves and their families if coronavirus panic worsens and their safety is at risk.

“It’s not necessarily the virus that I’m worried about — it’s how people are reacting to the virus,” said one customer at the gun store, who asked for anonymity because her husband is a first-responder. “We’ve already had break-ins in our neighborhood. What if someone gets desperate and tries to steal supplies from our home?”

The line ranged from 12 to 20 people outside of Maui Ammo & Gun Supply on Thursday as customers waited to get into the store, which was allowing six customers at a time for social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. — The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

Maui Ammo & Gun Supply business manager Chris Redeker said prior to March 9, the Wailuku store averaged about 20 customers a day. Since then, it’s averaged about 100 a day.

Angelena Handley Campos, whose father founded Handley’s Gun Supply, said Thursday that the store averages about 10 people daily; now, it is up to about 100 a day. Monday was the Kihei store’s busiest day since opening in 1989, she said.

Local store managers said the increase in purchases comes from a combination of factors, including coronavirus fear and several bills in the state Legislature that would restrict certain firearms and make it harder to buy ammunition. Also, it’s an election year, Campos said.

“It’s combination of a few things,” Redeker said. “The virus thing is causing a lot of panic. That could explain the large numbers in a short time.”

Redeker and Campos said customers are buying ammunition, handguns, rifles, shotguns and just about everything else.

“Anything they can get their hands on,” Redeker said. “Mainly shotguns and pistols.”

Campos said AR-15 rifles are a popular purchase right now: “That’s what everyone wants.”

Weapons start at about $200 and go up from there. Most customers spend between $700 and $1,000, Campos said.

Redeker and Campos both said more than half of the customers are first-time gun owners, and many are coming in to inquire about gun regulations. Redeker added that people have been surprised at the process and time required.

Hawaii laws say that people must wait 14 days for a background check and obtain single or multiple permits depending on the type of gun. Also, a Hunters Education card or a Handgun Safety Training

Course affidavit is required. Permitting and registration must be done through the county police department.

In February, there were 437 firearms registered (141 pistols and 296 rifle/shotguns), the largest number in the last three months, according to Maui Police Department data. Previous month registration numbers for the county are 340 for January and 400 for December.

Campos noted that sales are up not just in Hawaii — it’s happening nationwide and worldwide — and coincide with challenging times. Campos said her father saw an increase in gun sales leading up to Y2K in 1999.

“People were worried about computers then,” she said. “We survived that; we will survive this, too.”

Data on sales in various states will not be available from government sources until next month, The Associated Press said. But already this year, background checks are up considerably over last year. FBI data say that more than 5.5 million background checks were conducted in January and February combined.

Gun sales generally rise in an election year, as they did in 2016. But this past January and February have outpaced 2016 by nearly 350,000, the AP said.

Pukalani resident David Moore came to Maui Ammo & Gun Supply on Thursday to check on an issue with his permitted firearm. He said that while people are fearful, the coronavirus pandemic may be a time of unity instead of division.

“It can be an opportunity to be cohesive,” Moore said. “Maybe we can band together.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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