Janice Tosto never thought she would become a gun owner, especially now at age 58.
But over the last year, she began feeling a growing sense of lawlessness and danger in the city and particularly in her Germantown neighborhood. Now, she’s applying for a permit to carry a firearm.
“I’m not thrilled that I have to do this,” she said. “I’m kind of scared about doing this, but at the same time because of the way that things are going [with] all this lawlessness in the city, … as a Black woman, I just feel that it’s really important for me to have all the tools necessary to be able to defend myself.”
Tosto’s far from alone.
Since the pandemic began, gun sales and permit issuances have risen sharply in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, matching nationwide trends. In 2021, the city issued 52,230 new license-to-carry-permits, an increase of more than 600% from the year prior. In both 2020 and 2021, there were more than a million gun sales or transfers across Pennsylvania.
While the boom of sales and permits have slowed since their pandemic peaks, those who work in the industry attribute the increased interest in firearm ownership to fear amid growing gun violence, as with Tosto. In 2022, for example, 514 people were killed in homicides in Philadelphia, the vast majority by gun.
“We get [customers] from all over,” said Tom Dixon, a firearm trainer and the owner of Surplus Armé, a gun store and manufacturer in Chester. “A lot of women. Definitely a lot of women. All demographics.”
— Nate File and Massarah Mikati in Gun Ownership Boomed During the Pandemic. Meet Some of the Reluctant Firearm Owners.