Before Oakdale, New York's Dark Storm Industries opens its doors, there's a line of customers waiting to come inside. Some people are looking to purchase firearms and ammunition. Others are looking for instruction courses and time on the gun range. 
Because of a spike in demand, some of them will have to wait. The firearm manufacturer's most popular rifle, an AR-15 -style weapon called the DS-15 Typhoon, has a six-month waitlist. Before the pandemic, it would have been in stock, but the company has had to make changes this year: ammunition has a strict one box per customer policy, while beginner training classes are booked out through January and beyond. 
"People are scared with the coronavirus and then the potential long-term implications of that," said Dark Storm Industries co-owner Ed Newman. "The defund the police movement, as well as the riots that we saw breaking out in certain cities, have caused people, even the most skeptical, to all of a sudden be concerned for the safety of their family."  

Keeping Up With Demand

Though many businesses were shut down in New York State temporarily, Dark Storm Industries was able to continue manufacturing firearms as an essential business. However, state restrictions require that fewer staff work at one time to promote social distancing. As a result, the machines run up to 22 hours a day, seven days a week to keep up with orders. Sales are up 300 to 350 percent this year.
"On a typical year, we manufacture between 2,000 and 2,500 rifles," Newman said. "Our goal for this year is to be able to produce 10,000." 
Gun purchases in the United States have increased dramatically this year. About 17.2 million background checks in order to purchase a firearm, which has been used as an indicator for sales, have been completed in the first 10 months of 2020, according to the trade organization National Sports Shooting Foundation. It surpasses the previous full-year record of 15.7 million checks in 2016.
Many of these weapons are going to people who never owned a gun. NSSF estimated in August that five million Americans bought firearms for the first time in 2020. The group noted firearm sales usually go up during an election year, but President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris' stance on gun control may have increased sales, as well as civil unrest concerns tied to the pandemic and other social issues.
"The biggest misconception among gun owners is that it's an older white male," Newman explained. "The demographic is extremely diverse, particularly in the new, first-time shooters. We're seeing every race and ethnicity, men, women, everybody has shown interest in it."
Smith & Wesson's CEO said in a September call with investors that approximately 40 percent of its weapons were going to new buyers, about double the rate from previous years. 
"People who don't own a gun, who have never owned a gun, in some cases never even shot a gun are coming in with the interest of learning about it and often purchasing a firearm," Newman said. 

Firearm Education

With all these guns going to new homes, Newman urges people to take the time to properly train and educate themselves about their weapons. He suggests people come to the range four times a year, at least. 
"Just like operating a car, you wouldn't get your license, never use it, and then five years later expect to drive safely down the highway," he explained. "It's an ongoing commitment in gun ownership to continually do training, continually do practice, so you're a competent and safe user." 
There's also a lot of misinformation out there, he points out. You can't buy a handgun in New York without a permit, which can take up to a year to receive in some jurisdictions. 
There's also confusion about what certain guns can do, he added. An AR-15, for example, is often referred to as an assault rifle. It's actually named after ArmaLite, a rifle manufacturer that popularized the semi-automatic weapon. In states like New York, these guns are only allowed a max of 10 bullets at a time and are not allowed to have detachable magazines for easier reloading. Other states have more relaxed rules, so you may not be able to bring your firearm across state lines even if you purchased it legally elsewhere.
 He hopes with more people buying guns, they'll learn more about the industry. 
"That's millions and millions of new gun owners across the country," he said. "That will have a dramatic impact on people's understanding of this, people's knowledge of this, and in some cases, how people will vote with this as an issue."