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'The difference in demographics has been staggering': First-time gun owners part of record-setting year for Texas

In 2020, there've been 1.73 million firearm background checks in Texas, the most in one year since the FBI started tracking in 1998.

In a record year of gun sales, many have been bought by first-time gun owners, according to store owners and background check statistics. 

The FBI has reported more background checks for gun buyers this year than during any year since tracking began in 1998. 

Texas gun store owners and firearms experts believe most of these new customers have little training on how to handle, store and use the weapons.

Eagle Gun Range owner David Prince said his sales have more than doubled this year compared to last. And many of his customers have told him they are new, first-time gun owners. 

"The difference in demographics has been staggering," Prince said.

FBI statistics show there have been 1,730,278 firearm background checks through September in Texas — the most of any year since tracking began in 1998. Background checks can be an indicator of gun sales. 

The FBI reported 2,892,115 background checks nationwide in September, bringing the 2020 total so far to 28,826,449, more than the prior yearly record of 28,369,750 million in all of 2019.

Firearm sales traditionally increase during presidential election years, fueled by fears among gun owners that the next president could restrict their rights. 

But this year has also come with the coronavirus pandemic and widespread demonstrations over racial inequality and police brutality. 

Prince said he has met people who previously opposed owning a gun but have changed their minds this year. 

 "We have increased the fold of Second Amendment supporters," he said. 

The rise in gun sales started around mid-to-late March, right after the COVID-19 pandemic starting shutting down parts of Texas' economy.

Prince told WFAA on March 24 that gun sales at his two stores in Farmers Branch and Lewisville were up 500% in the span of two weeks.

The pace had slowed by the fall, but that's mainly due to lack of stock. 

The store can get as many as 10 guns in a day, but they're typically sold out by the next day due to demand. 

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Prince said before he closed down his store for about a month in April, many of his new customers spoke about their fear of people breaking into their houses for food and other scarce items.

Since he opened back up in May, the customers' general tone has changed.

"People were now not just afraid for their food source, they were afraid for their personal safety," Prince said.

As of September, there have been approximately 1,485,608 firearms sold in Texas, according to analysis from the nonprofit journalism outlet The Trace, which covers guns. 

These firearm sales estimates are based on data from the FBI and U.S. Census Bureau.

That number is already a yearly record for the state, breaking the previous record set in 2013 of approximately 1,356,141 purchases.

Credit: thetrace.org, fbi.org

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This uptick in gun sales has some people worried about the violence it could lead to.

"We're especially concerned because it's happening in this backdrop of a pandemic when risks of gun violence or at least certain types of gun violence are quite elevated," said Kelly Drane, the research director of Giffords Law Center, a national public interest law center that promotes gun control and opposes firearm ownership.

Drane said while there is already a risk for suicide and domestic violence during a pandemic, adding guns to those situations only causes more issues.

"Social unrest can create discomfort for some, and I think may have sort of pushed gun sales up to these record-setting levels," Drane said. "That's why we saw that first spike in gun sales in late March."

To some extent, Prince is also concerned. The gun store owner says people need training before they purchase a weapon. 

Prince's stores also have indoor gun ranges and training centers. People are allowed to practice with their purchased guns or their own guns.

"It's paramount to us they get some kind of education before they walk out of here with that firearm," Prince said.

Retired police officer Robert Owens was motivated to launch a training business because of the rise in gun sales. 

"The worst thing you could do is just say, 'I need a gun,'" Owens said. "You need training with that gun."

Credit: OwenRiggs Training Company
Robert Owens visits with two customers to discuss their home's security.

OwenRiggs Training Company employs current and former law enforcement officers.

These instructors teach handgun safety rules and Texas' self-defense laws and perform home security assessments.

Similar to Prince, the owner of Eagle Gun Range, Owens said a lot of his customers are first-time gun owners.

"If you're going to have a gun, that's your decision to make," Owens said. "If that's going to happen, then we want to help them to do that safely."

The Associated Press contributed to this story. 

Credit: OwenRiggs Training Company
The OwenRiggs trainers are former and current members of local law enforcement.

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