At Get R Gun in Santa Maria, there’s barely a single firearm left in the display case that earlier this week was filled with handguns.
Ever since Sunday, May 31, the day a large Black Lives Matter protest downtown was followed hours later in the evening by a scene of unrest, some violence, destruction of property, and the looting of one store, sales at the gun store have been through the roof. Many of those were first-time firearm purchases, according to the owner, who wished not to be quoted directly.
Surges in gun sales are typical during times of unrest and uncertainty—the business also saw a surge of firearm purchases just as COVID-19 panic set in—but the tenor among the handful of customers on Thursday, June 4, the day George Floyd was finally put to rest by his family, was palpable. Another event, this one a vigil organized by the local NAACP branch that stressed peaceful and nondestructive demonstration, had many concerned the “protest” would devolve into destruction of property and widespread looting in town.
“All the guns in my house are loaded,” one customer said.
At another locally-owned gun store in Orcutt, Dead on Firearms, owner Herb Crowley explained that he’s had trouble keeping an inventory. The store only opened again recently as California has phased reopening during COVID-19, but even before the killing of George Floyd he noticed a steady stream of business.
“Since the coronavirus, people have been in that scare mode, so I would say it’s been consistent,” Crowley said. “Our problem right now I would say is getting inventory—ammo and guns.”
Santa Maria imposed a 9 p.m. curfew since the day after the unrest on May 31, and the June 4 vigil and march organized by the NAACP ended before dark without any issue. But despite the small amount of destruction and violence in Santa Maria on May 31 compared to elsewhere in the U.S., it hasn’t stopped some concerned locals from preparing for the worst.
“They’re in protection mode because of the rioting and stuff that is going on,” Crowley said. “People are afraid right now… We are definitely just telling people to stay safe and stay smart.”
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