As firearm background checks surge statewide, local business owners see more first-time buyers, struggle to keep inventory

Greg Charney of TX Arsenal in Pinehurst said the custom gun store opened March 3, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the growing demand in the industry has helped him build a customer base. The store already has plans to offer training classes this fall. (Courtesy TX Arsenal)
Greg Charney of TX Arsenal in Pinehurst said the custom gun store opened March 3, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the growing demand in the industry has helped him build a customer base. The store already has plans to offer training classes this fall. (Courtesy TX Arsenal)

Greg Charney of TX Arsenal in Pinehurst said the custom gun store opened March 3, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the growing demand in the industry has helped him build a customer base. The store already has plans to offer training classes this fall. (Courtesy TX Arsenal)

In any election year, the firearms industry typically sees an uptick in sales, but given the ongoing pandemic and the unrest seen across the nation, 2020 is slated to be record-breaking, said Jeff Yuna, owner of Tomball Pawn & Jewelry.

“Election years are always positive years [in gun sales] because of the challenges to the Second Amendment,” said Yuna, who noted in mid-August that his sales had risen 150% year over year since February. “Primarily, what we’re seeing is a dramatic increase in first-time gun buyers. First-time gun buyers are somewhere between 32%-38% of what we’re seeing, which is unheard of.”

Total firearm background checks—including for permits, pawn redemption, rentals and private sales—totaled 1.36 million in Texas this year from January to July. With five months remaining in the year, the state is just about 358,000 shy of exceeding its 2016 number of 1.72 million checks, the state’s record since data was first collected in 1998, according to data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Although the number of firearm background checks does not necessarily represent the number of firearms sold, background checks for handguns, long guns and other firearms spiked in March in Texas, totaling 223,724 checks—a 138% increase year over year—according to NICS data.

“The gun business is a very unique business anyway, and very few businesses out there ... fluctuate the way we do based on what party’s in power or what politician makes a statement that they’re going to do something or not do something. A lot of people—for lack of a better word, they panic,” said Thom Bolsch, proprietor of Saddle River Range on FM 1488.

In Texas, firearm background checks for handguns, long guns and other firearms were up 71.78% from 2016—the last presidential election year—for the period spanning February to July, NICS data shows.

Bolsch said he estimates about 70% of gun sales in March at Saddle River were to first-time gun buyers, an increase from about 10% of customers regularly.

“Along comes this pandemic, and people were really fearful,” Bolsch said. “A lot of people came in, and they said, ‘We’ve never even touched a gun before,’ and that’s indicative of fear. That’s indicative of panic.”

Bolsch said his sales increased fourfold in March and April before another wave of panic hit amid protests of police brutality and calls for criminal justice reform across the nation.

“I will say our business is up. But I will also say ... our suppliers are having a hard time keeping up,” Bolsch said. “Our business model is only sustainable if we have product.”

Jeffrey Bearden, owner of Blackwood Gun Club in Conroe, said the industry has seen a shortage in firearms and ammunition, as manufacturers were transitioning their equipment to that needed for hunting season when COVID-19 hit this spring. As a result, few manufacturers have been able to meet the recent demand for firearms and ammunition.

“Gun sales would be astronomically through the roof if there was a large market of guns for us to be able to purchase to sell,” Bearden said.

Along with businesses, Bolsch said, customers have had to adapt, too, as firearms inventory shrinks.

“The days of us calling our distributors and saying, ‘Give us three of them and five of those and six of these'—that’s over. We call them now every day. ... ‘What do you have? What did you just get in?’” Bolsch said. “[Customers are] saying, ‘I’ll take it,’ because that’s all there is.”

Bolsch said Saddle River’s ammunition prices have doubled amid the nationwide shortage, so he has had to get creative in looking for ammunition to keep his gun range operational.

“We’re a gun range; if somebody wants to come in and shoot and we don’t have ammo for them, we’ve lost that business as well,” he said. “Some of our ammo costs have doubled. And unfortunately, you have to pass that on to the customer.”

Likewise, Bearden said the club has stopped ammunition sales to the public and is reserving any remaining ammunition for shooters on the gun range only.

“Our livelihood is range sales,” Bearden said.

Yuna said the Tomball store, established in 1983, ran out of common types of ammunition this spring, such as 9mm, for the first time in the store’s history.

“I think it’s kind of a toilet paper effect where when a customer goes to store after store after store and there’s no toilet paper, when they do see it, they buy it. I think that that’s contributing to [the ammunition shortage],” Yuna said.

Training, range activity

Not only are local business owners seeing increased gun and ammunition sales; shooting ranges and training classes have also been busier since the spring.

Greg Charney of TX Arsenal in Pinehurst said the custom gun store opened March 3, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, with little inventory. Over the last few months, he said, the growing demand in the industry has helped him build a customer base, and the store already has plans to expand and offer training classes this fall.

“During COVID-19, people are home and restless, and we’re an outdoor activity, ... so you can come out here safely and not be crammed in a tight space,” Bearden said. “So the range itself, from that aspect, as something for people to do has dramatically increased also.”

The all-outdoor, 100-acre facility in Conroe has kept busy with events as well, even while adhering to COVID-19 precautions, he said.

Although the facility has upped cleaning measures and offered masks to customers, Bolsch said Saddle River’s 33,000-square-foot setup already allowed guests to maintain social distance with bulletproof walls between shooting stalls and an air handling system that moves lead and contaminants downrange out of the shooter’s respiratory zone.

Since the spring, Saddle River has at least tripled its number of classes to educate new gun owners, he said.

“When we sell a gun, we try to make sure they know how to operate it before they leave. By law, we don’t have any obligation to make sure someone knows how to fire a gun; our obligation is more that they’re legally able to purchase a gun,” Bolsch said. “We want people to know we’re safety-conscious; we want people to know we’re not here to sell you a gun. We’re here to help you with your purchase and make sure you’re comfortable with it.”
By Anna Lotz

Editor, Tomball | Magnolia & Conroe | Montgomery

Anna joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in May 2016 after graduating with a degree in journalism from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. In July 2017, she transitioned to editor for the Tomball|Magnolia edition. She began covering the communities of Conroe and Montgomery as well in 2020. Anna covers education, local government, transportation, business, real estate development and nonprofits in these communities. Prior to CI, Anna served as editor-in-chief of Cedars, interned with the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and spent time writing for the Springfield News-Sun and Xenia Daily Gazette.


The convenience store chain is known for its Slurpees and self-serve soda fountains. (Courtesy 7-Eleven)
7-Eleven, Laredo Taco Company now open at Hwy. 249, Spring Cypress

The new location features a fueling station, car wash and beer cave.

The Texas Central rail connection from Dallas to Houston will feature a bullet train similar to this one. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas Supreme Court declines to review high-speed rail case, freeing company up to use eminent domain

Texas Central, the company looking to build a 236-mile high-speed rail line connecting Houston and Dallas, has been given a big win in an ongoing legal battle over whether the company is legally recognized as a "railroad company" under state law.

Bexar Barbecue will celebrate its one-year anniversary June 26. (Courtesy Bexar Barbecue)
Bexar Barbecue to celebrate first anniversary with all-day festivities

The barbecue joint celebrates its first anniversary June 26.

The spiced chicken puff pastries come with shredded chicken, garam masala and vegetables wrapped in a puff pastry and topped with creamy jalapeno sauce. (Courtesy Philipose's Kitchen & Bar)
Philipose's Kitchen & Bar now serving American southern-inspired food in Magnolia

Philipose's Kitchen & Bar opened in early March and offers dine-in, take-out and online ordering.

Lone Star College has been approved for additional baccalaureate programs following House Bill 3348 being signed June 16. (Andrew Christman/Community Impact Newspaper)
Lone Star College approved for additional baccalaureate programs

Lone Star College can now have up to five bachelor programs, up from its current three.

Following Hurricane Harvey, debris lined the streets in many parts of Harris County. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
After Department of Housing and Urban Development denies request, Texas General Land Office drafting plan to subaward Harris County $750M for flood mitigation

The Texas General Land Office now plans to subaward Harris County flood mitigation funding after the county was left out of recent Hurricane Harvey relief funds.

A house in the Balmoral development in Kingwood.
2,300 homes slated along FM 2920 in Hockley

Land Tejas will construct 2,300 new homes in a 646-acre development in Hockley.

Harris County Pets facilitates pet adoptions, foster placements and more. (Courtesy Harris County Pets)
Harris County Pets temporarily waives adoption fees to control increase of population

Harris County Pets has exceeded its capacity to house its growing pet population, officials said.

BB's Tex-Orleans in the Tomball area will serve boiled crawfish, shrimp po’boys, homemade gumbo and oysters. (Courtesy BB's Tex-Orleans)
BB's Tex-Orleans to expand to Tomball, plus more recent local business news

Read Tomball and Magnolia business updates from June.

Americans spent 44% more shopping on websites, including Amazon, in 2020 than in 2019. (Courtesy Amazon)
Surge in online shopping strains Houston’s distribution channels

Online spending in the U.S. was up 44% from 2019 to 2020, and transportation expert Bill Eisele said this uptick has put a strain on the region’s transportation system.

According to county officials, 40% of the $125 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Harvey took place within Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas General Land Office says it is 'not feasible' to request $750M in federal flood aid within 30 days

Houston-area officials ask for 30-day-dealine on the Texas General Land Office's formal request for $750 million in federal flood aid funding, but GLO says it is not possible.