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Charlotte’s ‘unprecedented’ demand for guns and ammo is fueled by more than politics

Joe Marusak, David T. Foster III
·6 min read

Tamara Schaeffer never bought a firearm before stepping inside Hyatt Gun Shop on Wilkinson Boulevard on Thursday.

Three homicides in her Revolution Park neighborhood along West Boulevard and Remount Road finally changed her mind about keeping a gun in her house and carrying it with her.

Schaeffer, a 45-year-old, single, Hispanic mom and a Harris Teeter deli worker, said she won’t even 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.”

“It’s awful out here on the streets, especially me being a woman,” Schaeffer told The Charlotte Observer by phone as she said a man began beating another one in the parking lot of the firearms store.

“You OK, sir?” she could be heard asking the victim. “You need us to call 911? He’s holding his rib cage.”

The parking lot was full of cars as she spoke, much as it has been each day for months, store owner Larry Hyatt said.

‘Biggest run on guns and ammo’

So many people of all ethnicities and political persuasions have gone to the store that ”we’ve just had the biggest run on guns and ammo in our history,” Hyatt said. “We’ve got the worst shortage of ammunition that I’ve seen in 62 years of business. It’s unprecedented.”

A safe in the store holds about 2,000 guns that belong to people awaiting their permits to buy and carry a firearm, he said.

Charlotte-area sheriff’s offices that issue both permits to buy and carry a gun and to carry a concealed handgun report backlogs of two to six months.

The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is currently processing applications from August, according to its website.

A 67-year-old lifelong Charlotte resident who bought a pistol at Hyatt Gun Shop on Thursday told the Observer he finally received his first-time permit last week after a six-month wait.

“You just need to be prepared,” the man said about why he bought a gun for the first time. He asked to remain anonymous because of safety concerns for his wife and himself.

According to data provided to the Observer by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, nearly three times more people applied for concealed handgun permits in December compared with December 2019 — 1,113 applications last month and 475 applications in December 2019.

The number of applicants in November more than doubled from November 2019, according to the sheriff’s office data: 1,307 in November 2020 and 576 in November 2019.

Purchase permit applications rose from 1,638 in December 2019 to 2,076 in December 2020, and from 1,571 in November 2019 to 3,032 in November 2020, according to the data.

On Nov. 5, Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden posted a statement on Twitter that his office reported “unprecedented increases” in permit applications since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.

Before March, the sheriff said, purchase permit applications averaged 1,506 a month for fiscal year 2020 and 1,130 a month for fiscal year 2019.

Since March, the monthly average soared to 4,698, including an all-time high 6,425 applications in June, according to the sheriff.

Highest number of permit applicants ever

On Oct. 26, the sheriff’s office registered the highest-ever number of applications at 13,005, McFadden said.

The sheriff said on Nov. 5 that he authorized more overtime and moving staff from other divisions to help address the demand.

“Although our offices were required to close at the onset of the pandemic, our staff continued to work in the office processing purchased permits and concealed handgun renewals,” he said.

Since the office reopened June 1 for new concealed handgun permit applicants, the monthly average of applicants for new and renewal of concealed handgun permits soared 125%, according to McFadden. That was for July through October compared with the same period in 2019.

McFadden answered the Observer’s request for comment about the numbers with a prayer on Wednesday, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration as president.

“Today I pray this nation stands together physically and mentally with open hearts as we begin this new chapter,” McFadden said in an email. “We can’t continue to dress in the fabric of hate and violence.”

Gun sales rise because of COVID, election, more

Gun shop owners cite one reason after another for what they say have been more customers than ever through their doors since the start of the pandemic in March.

Gun and ammo manufacturers temporarily closed facilities to curb spread of COVID-19, which led to shortages of ammunition in particular, Hyatt said.

“We also had the pandemic scare people, so they wanted to buy guns for protection, then the riots, then the defund-police (movement), then the political situation, talk about more gun control,” he said.

“And there’s a lot of rumors out there,” fueled by the internet, that “one way to get gun control is to drop the ammunition,’’ he said. “So that rumor was out there.”

And potential legislation by the Biden administration against “magazines and certain guns” “has caused people to want to buy to those,” Hyatt said.

“So we’ve had the stew pot of the virus, riots, politics, the whole kit and caboodle,” he said.

As Jeff Bolton, manager of the Nichols Store in Rock Hill put it: “We’re busy, but we’ve been busy for seven months, not because of today (Inauguration Day”).

The increased trade, he said, is because of the pandemic, street protests “and 50,000 other things going on in the world.”

‘Political season’ could go on

“Normally we have the hunting season and the Christmas season, but our biggest season now is the political season, and it looks like it’s going to continue for a while longer,” Hyatt explained.

He said customers are of all political stripes. “Liberals need self-protection, too,” he quipped.

Schaeffer said she obtained her permit to buy and carry a gun last year. On Thursday, she bought a 9mm Taurus at Hyatt Gun Shop for $309.99, clips for $30, a lock box for $34 and a holster for $26.99.

“I was actually very nervous when I was checking out,” she said. “I hurried up and put (the gun) in the trunk. You have to learn how to use it first, but I do feel a little safer.”

On Sunday, she and her boyfriend plan to visit a shooting range in Mount Holly, where she’ll talk with staff about taking a gun safety class.