SCHENECTADY — Residents are arming themselves to the teeth as the coronavirus spreads.
Upstate Guns and Ammo on State Street was crammed with customers on Tuesday.
Within hours, the doors were locked and shoppers were restricted to entering one by one.
“Pandemonium,” said owner Craig Serafini. “That’s the only word.”
Like grocery stores and pharmacies, coronavirus-fearing shoppers are descending on gun shops in a frenzy.
Serafini estimates he’s been doing 10 times more business than usual, with 95 percent of his customers first-time buyers and gun owners.
“We recommend something to use in your home relatively safely and effectively, which would be a shotgun,” Serafini said.
The landscape differs from the aftermath of the 2012 massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, when a gunman killed 26 people. That run was fueled by gun owners fearing that pending legislation would restrict ownership, said Steve Borst, co-owner of Target Sports, Inc. in Glenville.
Now the boom is being fueled by people concerned about home protection.
“Our gun sales are driven largely as a way to protect themselves if things turn to s—,” said Borst, who estimated sales were five times higher than usual.
Dan Wos, a Saratoga Springs-based gun-rights advocate, said the uptick didn’t surprise him.
“Concerned Americans want to make sure that we can protect our families in times of crisis,” Wos said.
Fear of the unknown is one of the most powerful fears, said professor Kevin Martin Antshel, professor of psychology at Syracuse University and director of the school’s clinical psychology program.
“We react quite poorly when things are unknown or uncertain,” Antshel said. “The uncertainty is driving a lot of panic behavior.”
That current “every-man-for-himself” mentality “unfortunately leads people to make decisions not entirely based in rational thought,” Antshel said.
He pinned panic-buying, including runs on food, hand sanitizer and toilet paper, to the pervasiveness of social media, which was nascent during the 2003 SARS outbreak and not as ubiquitous during the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa in 2014.
Paired with the uncertainty, “this is almost in a way a perfect storm for panic-buying,” Antshel said.
Roughly a dozen shoppers browsed merchandise at Target Sports, the air still except for the sounds of bolt actions locking into place and employees ringing patrons out.
Shotguns were top sellers, but so were tactical weapons, Borst said, motioning at nearly empty racks.
Following the surge, retailers began limiting ammunition purchases.
The scene was similar at Gunsmoke in Rotterdam, where a worker showed a patron how to handle a Ruger American Rimfire bolt-action rifle.
“A bunch of people are buying guns,” said manager Brian Smith. “People are buying everything.”
At the counter, a patron paid for his shotgun and told the clerk to skip the box.
“I’ve got to be somewhere,” he said.
Staffers at other retailers were too busy to talk, including at Zack’s Sports in Round Lake, where employees told customers on Wednesday that computer networks were bogged down as a result of so many background checks being processed at the same time.
Specific data on the number of sales will not be available until next month, according to The Associated Press. But background checks are up over last year. Just over 5.5 million background checks were conducted in January and February, according to the FBI.
Shoppers have until Sunday night to stock up: Gun retailers are not considered essential businesses, according to new directives issued by the governor’s office on Friday, and will be required to close by 8 p.m.