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News >  Idaho

North Idaho’s ‘essential’ gun shops see increased business; Washingtonians seeking handguns will be turned away

Rifles are shown for sale at Center Target Sports in Post Falls on Saturday, March 28, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Rifles are shown for sale at Center Target Sports in Post Falls on Saturday, March 28, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Some North Idaho gun retailers have noticed a marked increase in business during the last few weeks, in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, and that trend could continue with Gov. Brad Little’s declaration that they’re essential businesses in his three-week stay-home order.

That’s in opposition to Washington, where Gov. Jay Inslee determined gun retailers should close under his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. Before that, Spokane retailers reported higher gun sales and their stocks of ammunition running dry.

Other states are split on the decision as well. In Ohio, Illinois and Michigan, gun stores were deemed essential but not in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, the New York Times reported.

“Everyone has been overwhelmed with the demand for firearms and ammunition across the country,” said Ed Santos, a national shooting range consultant who owns Center Target Sports in Post Falls with his wife, Peggy Santos.

FBI background checks rose 36% in February compared to last year, for a total of 2.8 million nationally and the largest year-over-year increase since the last election year, the New York Times reported.

“In Idaho it has been no different,” Santos said. “We continue to see aggressive activity in the retail area for firearms and ammunition.”

Santos said his business – which has an indoor range that is not operational due to COVID-19 measures – was already stocking up on ammunition in preparation for an election year, when people tend to buy up a surplus of their own in fear of stricter gun control regulations.

“And we still have plenty today,” said Santos, despite a 30-40% increase in firearm and ammunition sales.

Coeur d’Alene gunsmith Ty Buck, who owns Elkingham Armory, said his phone has been ringing an unusual amount with people seeking guns and ammo. He doesn’t sell ammo and rarely sells guns but has heard from two nearby gun shops that sales have increased.

“All these people are getting scared to death,” Buck said.

At Sportsmen’s Warehouse in Meridian, Idaho, some shelves of handgun ammunition were close to empty, the Associated Press reported. The store also limited sales to two handguns and one AR- or AK-platform rifle per person each day, in addition to ammo purchase limits.

At least 50 guns went out the door last week alone at Center Target Sports, Santos estimated. And he noticed almost all of the people purchasing those guns were first-time owners, with some of them reporting they’d been resistant to owning guns in the past.

“But yet they were in the store purchasing them,” Santos said.

Santos said a spike in new gun ownerships doesn’t concern him in terms of safety because Center Target Sports offers one-on-one orientations for new gun owners. And once his range is back open, he plans to offer a free clinic to any first-time gun owners who made purchases in North Idaho this spring.

A number of the people purchasing their first guns have also been Washingtonians, according to Santos. But retailers in Idaho can only sell them shotguns and rifles that aren’t considered assault-style weapons because those have to be shipped to a Washington shop for the necessary paperwork to be processed.

Santos and Buck both say that’s a problem and that gun retailers in Washington should be considered essential as well.

“There’s no reason for restricting firearms,” Santos said.

Buck said it’s infringing on people’s rights.

“In Idaho and Spokane, firearms are a pretty essential part of our day-to-day lives. Always have been,” Buck said. “I feel really bad for the people of Spokane because there are only certain things (retailers are) able to do.”

Robin Ball, owner of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop in Spokane, told KHQ she filed to be included as an essential business with the state last week.

“I hope Washington will recognize they’re not doing anyone a service,” Santos said. “We’re selling guns daily to Idahoans.”

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