Californians flocking to gun stores amid COVID-19 pandemic, federal data show

Californians are flocking to gun stores in big numbers during the coronavirus pandemic, even as gun buyers nationwide are setting new records according to new federal data.

The number of background checks initiated for gun purchases set a national one-week record in the third week of March as the outbreak forced businesses to close and people to stay at home, according to the FBI data.

Nationwide, background checks totaled 3.7 million in March. That's the highest national monthly number under the background check program ever, dating back to late 1998.

California is seeing a similar surge. The state saw 164,000 background checks for gun purchases in March. That's a 72% increase from the month before and a 34% increase from March 2019, according to the FBI data. That monthly figure is California's highest in three years, and among the top 20 highest months in the past two decades.

RELATED: Gun sales surge in Asian communities during coronavirus

Still, surges in individual months of 2015 and 2016 were higher than the current coronavirus spike, correlating with the San Bernardino terror attack in 2015, and then with the 2016 presidential election - an event that historically has correlated with higher-than-normal gun sales.

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There's evidence that this is related to the coronavirus pandemic. While the FBI doesn't release weekly statistics in its report, it does maintain a list of top 10 weeks. Nationwide, the third week of March 2020 set a one-week record for gun background checks, the same time that the outbreak was prompting stay-at-home orders. Four of top 10 weeks included days this March.

In Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva has expressed concerns about the surge in gun purchases. He initially attempted to order gun stores to close under the county's stay-at-home orders, but later backed off that plan.
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