“Business has been insane,” said an exasperated but smiling Tiffany Teasdale, owner of Lynnwood Gun and Ammunition. “Before the COVID-19 crisis, on a good day we’d have maybe 15 sales. Now we’re racking up 150 and more each day. I’ve had to hire additional staff, and just keeping inventory in the store is a real challenge.”
The shop has been a local fixture for 35 years; Teasdale — an Edmonds resident — has owned it since 2013.
“It’s a family business and part of the community,” she points out. “Our employees are mostly long-term, and have past experience in the firearms industry and law enforcement.”
Since the COVID crisis, customers begin lining up outside before the doors open, and Teasdale’s strict adherence to social distancing standards means the lines continue most of the day.
“We’re being really careful to comply with all cleanliness standards and maintain social distancing,” she explained. “We’re not a huge shop, and we’ve set a policy to only allow 3 customers in at a time to ensure safe distancing. Depending on the time of day, some folks wait quite a while to get through the door.”
The sales surge means inventory moves quickly — often too quickly for the supply chain to keep up.
“With the COVID crisis some manufacturers and shippers have slowed operations, laid off staff or even closed entirely,” she explained. “The whole supply chain is stressed, just at the time when demand is way up.”
And it’s not just serving the customers.
“Between background checks, inventory audits, and working with suppliers I’m doing a mountain of administrative paperwork each day,” she added. “To give me more time to get through this before customers come through the door, we’ve adjusted our store hours to open at 11 a.m. instead of 10. But even with this I’m having to come in at 7:30 every morning and I often stay till past 9:30 at night. And the phone never stops ringing. I’m getting between 500 and 1,000 calls per day.”
So where are all the customers coming from?
According to Teasdale, she helps supply 19 separate law enforcement agencies, and in many cases the officers and first responders themselves are customers.
“Many first responders have families at home,” she explained. “Being called out at all hours of the day and night means leaving their loved ones home alone, and many believe that providing them the protection of a firearm in the house is an important thing to do.”
Another motivator is fear.
“People are scared, honestly scared,” said Teasdale. “This COVID thing has lots of folks spooked.”
As an example, she told of numerous customers who see the financial markets cratering and respond by withdrawing money as cash and keeping it at home — mattress money. This heightens fears of criminals breaking into their homes and using illegally-obtained firearms to rob them, and they see having a firearm in the home as a way to protect against this and allay these fears.
Teasdale has also seen a marked rise in new gun owners as the COVID-related worries deepens.
“Since the COVID crisis hit, about 85 percent of my customers are first-time buyers,” she said. “While I don’t keep numbers on this, it appears that more than half of our new customers are people of color — mainly Asian and Hispanic — many of whom do not speak English as their first language. Education is a big component of gun sales, and it’s something we take very seriously especially with first-time owners. Most of this is person to person, but the language barrier can make it tough. To help overcome this we’ve developed information sheets and educational materials in other languages that lay out the basics of gun law and the important points of gun safety.”
Another thing she said she takes seriously is background checks.
The law requires a 10-working-day waiting period for all handgun and semi-automatic firearm purchases. That means weekends don’t count, so customers are effectively waiting two weeks before they can complete their purchases.
Background checks for other classes of firearms are less stringent. Customers purchasing shotguns or lever, pump and bolt action long guns submit an online background check, often right at the point of purchase, and frequently can walk out with their firearm the same day. And while customers generally don’t like the wait and the hassle, according to Teasdale the vast majority of background checks are approved.
“Since the COVID crisis began we’ve done more than 1,000 background checks,” she explained. “Of these only seven have been rejected. But keep in mind that criminals typically obtain firearms illegally through the black market or outright steal them. It’s kind of ironic — and sad — that we’re only checking the folks who purchase legally, and the people who the laws are designed to bar from possessing firearms have lots of ways to skirt around it.”
Another issue that has emerged with the COVID crisis is defining which businesses can remain open during the shutdown and which cannot, and where gun shops fit into this.
“Whether Gov. Inslee’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order applies to gun shops is open to interpretation,” she explains. “Some argue that our business supplies items that are essential for maintaining home safety, and others disagree.”
Among those who feel gun shops are an essential service is Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney, who along with more than a dozen local law enforcement officials sent a letter to Inslee arguing that closing gun shops would “threaten the continued operation” of law enforcement, and urging him to specifically designate gun shops as essential during the COVID crisis.
“For now we’re remaining open to serve our customers and community, and we’ll wait to see how this plays out,” she added.
Lastly, Teasdale freely acknowledges the controversy surrounding firearms and the issue of Second Amendment rights versus responsible gun control laws. As a gun shop owner, she finds herself increasingly in the middle of the debate, and sometimes it gets disturbingly personal.
“I’ve received hate mail, threats, you name it,” she explains. “One person told me that she hopes I get shot in the head. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean you have to be mean or nasty. I’m trying to run a business here, comply with all laws and regulations, and treat my customers and employees fairly and with respect. We’ve been part of this community for a long time, and we owe our customers nothing less.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel