By just about anyone’s account, 2020 has been a year unlike any other. That’s true for the Second Amendment, the firearm industry and for millions of Americans new to gun ownership. It doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.
The Heritage Foundation hosted a webinar titled, “The Second Amendment Strikes Back,” spotlighting several intersecting trends related to gun rights. Moderated by Heritage legal fellow Amy Swearer, the conversation included in-depth insights from Second Amendment journalist Stephen Gutowski, California firearm retailer and National African American Gun Association member Geneva Solomon and Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert.
Topics included this year’s record-breaking surge in firearm sales, on-the-ground gun store experiences, the growing diversity among gun owners and the legal implications on the Second Amendment from lawsuits on the local, state and federal levels.
Nearly 6.2 Million
The backdrop for firearm sales in 2020 is well known. The coronavirus pandemic and shutdown orders from governors created worry and concern for Americans. Law enforcement were stretched thin and jails and prisons were releasing criminals. Then riots, looting and violence in communities exploded and calls to “defund the police” grew. Gun sales continued to surge.
The numbers are historic. More than 15.4 million checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) have been run so far. Retailer survey data approximates almost 6.2 million first-time gun owners.
Solomon provided her view as an on-the-ground firearm retailer in the Golden State.
“With California being one of the most restrictive states out there, we saw an uptick that started in mid-March in gun sales when the shutdown in California happened,” she began. “Literally, we blinked and we had a line of new gun owners who knew nothing about what the process looked like.”
Gutowski added the intersecting circumstances set the table for where we are now, explaining “It’s a pretty huge sea change and one that is certain to have long-term impact on the country.”
Swearer described how 2020 began with inaction from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“In some respects, 2020 has been a disappointing year for the Second Amendment,” she said. “As many of us remember with some chagrin, the Supreme Court continued its decade-long silence earlier this year on this most important constitutional right.”
The Supreme Court denied petitions of appeal to hear any of 10 cases involving Second Amendment issues before them.
At a more local level, lawsuits have been brought challenging governors’ executive overreach to shut down gun stores in states like New Jersey and New Mexico. Other lawsuits were brought by gun buyers facing roadblocks to purchase their firearm, as in Philadelphia.
Gutowski recalled reporting on a California gun buyer, Scott Kane, who relayed the barriers he experienced.
“This has taken me, a law-abiding citizen with nary an unpaid parking ticket to my name, over a month. Meanwhile Joe Bad Guy has probably purchased several fully automatic AK-47s out of the back of an El Camino in a shady part of town with zero background checks,” Kane explained.
Illinois residents seeking their Firearm Owner Identification (FOID) card have had it especially hard. Goldwater Institute Senior Attorney Jacob Huebert cut right to the chase, describing the severe delays experienced in Chicago.
“Of course, Illinois and especially Chicago are notorious for disrespecting Second Amendment rights,” Huebert explained. “So, it’s [Chicago’s antigun history] been incredibly hostile to Second Amendment rights, and now it seems that the big one that’s left is this FOID card requirement.”
Gun Politics, Local Politics
All four speakers noted the importance of national politics and the implications of November’s election on the right to keep and bear arms. They wrapped up the conversation by focusing attentions on the local level.
Solomon reiterated that it was new gun buyers coming to her store and learning the process as the moment when they would recognize how gun control laws affect them.
“A lot of times what happens especially for the new gun owners is, yes, we pay attention to the presidential election, but then they forget about midterms and local elections… and a lot of times that’s how these things get packaged and passed because people are not paying attention at that level,” she said.
Gutowski added that even in antigun states like New York and California, new gun owners who are engaged and contact their local officials can still have a significant impact. He noted Virginia this year, where the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed several gun control laws. It was significant grassroots engagement and pressure that caused elected officials to reject the most severe policy, a ban and confiscation on modern sporting rifles.
“It’s clear that even when one party has control of the entire state government, they can still be influenced on specific issues if you have enough voters who speak up about it,” he said.
NSSF launched the #GUNVOTE campaign to help voters become more educated and don’t risk their rights in the ballot box on Nov. 3.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.