Outside Guns Direct in Burbank, California, 21-year-old Elliott Smith is waiting to buy his first firearm. He’d been debating the decision with his family for some time before finally being convinced by the scenes from the Capitol. “It’s just my precautionary tool,” he says. “My personal belief is that I wouldn’t use it unless there was a civil war.”
Behind the counter, James Janya, a 41-year-old former Marine, says he’s noticed an “uptick in customers”, though nothing like the scale of the early days of the pandemic, when lines frequently snaked around the block.
By his estimate, around 80 per cent of customers over the past year have been first-time gun buyers, and the number of women has also sharply increased. “Everybody is scared right now,” he says. “Businesses are closing down. Crime is on the rise. People are saying: ‘Defund the police.’ Well, then who’s going to protect me? That’s why people are buying guns.”
Things are quieter at nearby Burbank Ammo & Guns, which employee Eric Fletcher attributes to record sales in 2020. “I think everyone who was looking to buy a gun has already done it,” says the 34 year-old. “The supply of guns and ammunition is still low because of the extreme demand last year.”
This demand is being driven by both sides of the political spectrum. “We see a diverse mixture, including people who come in wearing clothing that says things like: ‘BLM’ or ‘FTP’ [F— the Police],” says Fletcher.