ABC News Corona Virus Economic Impacts

Gun sales on the rise as coronavirus concerns spread

At gun stores across the U.S. people are stocking up in enormous numbers.

At gun stores from California to New York, the American people are stocking up in enormous numbers, almost as if the end was near.

"Trying to buy ammunition because of everything that's going on with the virus and stuff, it's horrible and I don't want to take any chances," Angel Colon told ABC News affiliate WPVI in Spanish.

People are arming themselves. They are lining up outside gun stores. Or going online. In February, the internet retailer ammo.com reported a 309% increase in revenue and a 222% surge in transactions. The group is calling the sales “unprecedented.”

The increased gun sales come as police departments are being forced to pare down operations due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Some police Departments are responding to only calls that involve emergencies – calls like fender benders and lost items are being handled over the phone or people are required to go and give a statement at the police station.

Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.

National figures on gun sales that are monitored by the FBI will not be available until early April. But the anecdotal evidence is hard to miss.

In Virginia, where the State Police track background check numbers, there was an 86% increase in requests in January compared to January of 2019. Authorities attribute some of that uptick to Virginia’s lobby day – when gun enthusiasts descended on Richmond in opposition to proposed new restrictions. But the trend continued in February, when over 64,000 buyers underwent checks, compared to 39,300 the previous February. And in March, Virginia saw 35,383 background checks conducted, which is just 10,000 background checks than the entire month of March 2019.

In Colorado, more than 14,000 background checks for firearms transfers have been received in the last week, compared to about 7,000 checks conducted in the same timeframe last year, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said in a statement on Tuesday.

In Pennsylvania, police said this week that a surge in requests to the state's background check system for firearm purchases twice resulted in the system shutting down for hours-long periods. On one day alone, March 17, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System completed 4,342 transactions. That day in 2019, they only ran 1,359 checks, according to Major Gary Dance, director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification.

"The Pennsylvania State Police is working with its vendor to increase processing power to avoid future backlogs and will adjust staffing as needed to meet demand," Dance said.

Across the Northeast, lines have snaked out the doors of local gun shops.

Kimber Zerweck told ABC News station WPVI in Philadelphia that lines have been out the door since Thursday.

"In five years I've owned this place, I've never had lines out the door," said Zerweck, who owns Delia’s Gunshop in Mayfair, Pennsylvania. "It's a mixture of people who know what they wanna buy and other people who wanna buy because they're afraid of what's going on with the criminal element.”

There was a similar scene in upstate New York where Peter O’Malley was on his way to his campus when he saw the crowd outside Hempstead Guns and Ammo.

“When I first saw it looked like it was just like, you know, a line of probably 10, 15 people,” O’Malley said in an interview. “And then it was probably a line of 20, 25, 30 and it wrapped all the way around the back part of the parking lot.”

Kyle Harrison, an employee at Top Gun in Houston, told ABC affiliate KTRK that customers are buying “literally everything.”

“They're buying firearms and ammunition and accessories,” Harrison said.

ABC News' Alexander Mallin and Eli Finkelson contributed to this report.