Whether it is the concerns created by government lockdowns, the looming threat of gun reform, the fear another riot is around the corner, or concerns people have with their government, Carey said people tell him they are uneasy.

“That unease is only increasing,” he said. “People know the fight over gun control is only going to escalate that. It already is.”

Business is booming in this small-town gun shop

NEW ALEXANDRIA, Pennsylvania — Within moments of President Biden using the anniversary of a school shooting to call on Congress to take on new gun restrictions, Nathan Carey’s phone began ringing. The 37-year-old gun shop proprietor said he was fairly certain he knew what triggered it before taking the first call.

“It happens every time a politician mentions gun control,” said Carey, owner of the Bullseye Firearms Gun Vault.

Carey said Biden’s call for congressional action on guns didn’t just increase his already brisk business. Gun owners and nongun owners alike called the shop, asking questions.

“We didn’t just get calls and foot traffic. We also got a lot of questions. People want to be educated. They want to understand what is happening, why it is happening, and how it will affect their lives and their ability to purchase a gun or ammunition,” explained Carey.

Located on Main Street off old Route 22, Carey’s gun shop business is robust. Part of that is loyalty and trust built over generations beginning with his grandfather, a highly respected gun dealer.

It also boasts of extraordinary customer service.

As each person walks in, they are guided through with care and knowledge whether they are an experienced gun collector or a first-time buyer. The former is often looking to expand a collection. The latter is a phenomenon that has exploded industry sales so much in the past 12 months that it has depleted stock no one, including a seasoned pro such as Carey, ever anticipated.

Last month, the Pennsylvania State Police reported that October through December of last year was the busiest quarter in the 22-year history of the state’s Instant Check System. The state processed over 420,000 firearm license background checks through that law enforcement agency within that time frame. The previous record of just over 400,000 was set in the third quarter, July through September.

In comparison, 270,000 firearm background checks were processed in the last quarter of 2019. Nationwide, the National Shooting Sports Foundation data showed over 21 million people bought guns in 2020, with well over 8 million first-time firearm owners.

Nearly half of those first-time gun owners were women, and that aligns with Carey’s expanded customer base. “The female first-time gun owner has been growing for a while, but it surged even more last year when the pandemic hit,” said Carey.

Carey said it increased even further during the protests that started last summer. Women were interested in not just protecting themselves but also their families and loved ones. He said, “Whether you’re a male or female, you have the right to protect yourself and your family, and that right starts to get attention when people feel things are unstable in the world.”

Carey said the “defund the police” movement also sparked interest in the firearms from people who told him they never once considered buying a gun. “A lot of the same people that said, ‘You know what? It’s OK. We don’t need guns because the police are going to protect us,’ quickly changed their tune and said, ‘Why the hell do I want to give up gun rights if they’re going to get rid of the police?'” he said of numerous interactions with first-time buyers. “People wanted to be empowered to protect their families.”

The building that houses Bullseye Firearms Gun Vault is the old New Alexandria National Bank, which was folded into a more prominent bank decades ago. The tiny town with a population of 500 was nearly wiped out 100 years ago when a rare cyclone ripped down the old William Penn Highway, upending much of the town’s infrastructure in its path. Miraculously, only buildings, including the bank’s stable, suffered.

Carey, who grew up in the industry traveling all over the region with his grandfather to gun shows, picked the old building for the business because of the building’s unique character.

“I didn’t want to have customers coming to your normal strip mall kind of gun shop. I knew it was going to be a challenge because I’m right off of the highway, not on the highway, but I figured that we could do it, and I did,” he said.

Located at the halfway point between Pittsburgh and Johnstown, the store is brightly lit and well stocked with firearms. Then, you notice the towering four sides of ammunition shelves are far from full, with a sign warning a two-box limit per caliber.

Carey said that when you have millions of new gun owners, you also have millions of new people buying ammunition. “Let’s just say they all bought two boxes of ammo. That’s a hell of a lot of ammo, so the industry went to zero, and when it goes to zero, it was just like the toilet paper shortage. You don’t know where the hell it went.”

Carey said when the ammunition comes into the store, it goes right back out. “It is the same thing with firearms. When firearms come in, they go right back out because everybody’s looking.”

Going back to last March, it has not been uncommon for him to have a line wrapped around the building. This year, Carey said, it is no different with the weeks leading up to and after Biden’s inauguration handing him record numbers. “January was an absolutely crazy month, one of the busiest months that I’ve ever had being in business,” he said.

He isn’t alone. The FBI reported it conducted over 4.3 million gun background checks in January, clocking in the highest number of background checks conducted during a single month in the bureau’s recorded history.

That demand comes with consequences, said Carey. “I do a lot of used gun business, but the used gun market has been almost zero for the past year. Nobody’s been selling their used guns. Everybody’s been holding on to them.”

His overall inventory is traditionally at 800. Right now, he is at 300. “So, I still got 300 guns, which is great. It’s just that it’s not my normal. I’m down under 50% of what I normally carry,” Carey said.

Carey said he hasn’t physically been able to order a firearm or ammo in nearly eight months. “If you’re on a distributor’s or manufacturer’s special list, [and] they call you and tell you, ‘This is what we have for you today. Take it or don’t. That’s it,’ well, you take it,” he said.

Luckily, he said, he is on some of those special lists. “Thankfully, throughout the years, I’m always wheeling and dealing, right? That puts me on some good distributors’ lists, and I’m factory-direct with a bunch of companies. So, I’ve been getting a steady bit of product,” he said.

Then, came the warning, he said. “Nothing’s ever enough in something like this, though.”

In short, Carey said there is no stocking up in the latest surge in gun sales. “There is no ramping up for what’s going to be coming down the pipeline with President Biden’s agenda because we’ve never had a chance to slow down,” he said.

As the door opened and shut several times, the constant business at the Bullseye gun shop shows how people respond to the instability of our culture with the pursuit of self-protection. Whether it is the concerns created by government lockdowns, the looming threat of gun reform, the fear another riot is around the corner, or concerns people have with their government, Carey said people tell him they are uneasy.

“That unease is only increasing,” he said. “People know the fight over gun control is only going to escalate that. It already is.”