The chaotic pandemic year of 2020, as well as the first quarter of 2021, saw a record surge in gun ownership among Americans. Whether people were motivated by political tension, fear of increased crime during difficult economic times or just looking to further fortify their home defense, many have recently become first-time gun owners.
Delbert Newcombe purchased his first firearm shortly after the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns began. His roommate had introduced him to shooting, bringing Newcombe along to local firing ranges for the first time as a way to have fun. Newcombe’s first firearm purchase was a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 semi-automatic pistol, which he says is primarily for home defense.
“It was a spur of the moment thing from a brand I trusted,” Newcombe said. “It was inexpensive.”
But beyond home defense, Newcombe said he was also heavily motivated to purchase his second firearm, a Ruger AR-556 rifle, by the displays of violence coming from right-wing protesters and supporters of former president Donald Trump.
“Between the coalescence of Trump supporters and anti-maskers and them getting more and more chaotic, it made me concerned,” Newcombe said. “To put it gently, I took notice of it.”
After acquiring his first firearms, Newcombe began to learn more about gun culture for the first time. Most of all, it’s fun to fire an AR-15 at the range. Prior experience had him informed on many of the social norms of visiting a firing range.
“I had previously shot guns when I was in Boy Scouts in my early teens. I knew some of the safety protocols and range etiquette, such as never pointing a gun at anybody regardless if it’s not loaded,” Newcombe said.
But what had surprised Newcombe as a first-time gun owner was the relative ease of acquiring both of his firearms. He expressed concern that he faced little in the way of background checks for both his pistol and his rifle. Both of his guns were purchased at Sportsman’s Warehouse between Lansing and Grand Ledge.
“To be honest, I was surprised at how relatively easy it was to purchase them,” Newcombe said. “The pistol required a background check to come through, but I was able to buy the rifle a lot quicker.”
Newcombe believed it was a little too easy for him to get both of his guns and says he supports measures for increased background checks and the closing of potential exploitable loopholes that might allow somebody to get a secondhand gun from a friend with no formal background check.
“It’s mind-blowing,” Newcombe said. “There needs to be barriers, because it’s dangerous.”
Newcombe said his experience at firing ranges has been very positive. Despite the range he frequents displaying right-wing political posters he does not agree with, Newcombe said everybody he’s met there so far has been “friendly and cordial.”
Newcombe said he has no interest in earning a concealed weapon license because he believes always having a gun on him might cause more problems than it solves.
“The good guy with a gun is either not likely to act, or in the worst-case scenario they make an incident worse,” Newcombe said.
Dane Kowalk purchased his first handgun, a Kimber Micro 9 pistol, just six weeks ago. Kowalk, who purchased his first home in 2020, wanted to feel protected from home invasion scenarios. He already owned a Mossberg hunting rifle, a Christmas gift from two years ago but deemed it inappropriate and unwieldy for home defense situations. Kowalk said that his rifle is primarily used for big game hunting and is no good for a close-range encounter.
“We bought our first house over a year ago. I have a rifle that I wouldn’t dare shoot in the vicinity of other people because of how loud and dangerous those things are,” Kowalk said. “With such a high-powered rifle, you don’t know where that bullet is going to go.”
Kowalk and his girlfriend, Yulanda Sheridan, who lives with him, took a training class earlier in 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Kowalk took the class with Sheridan, who had never fired a gun before. He wants the both of them to be prepared to use the handgun if necessary.
“She was comfortable with the idea, but she had never shot a gun before. I wanted to take her to that class so she could learn how to shoot,” Kowalk said. “Once we got our stimulus checks, we had the extra money to purchase a handgun.”
Kowalk said he doesn’t yet feel the need to always have the handgun on his person, so he hasn’t worked toward getting his permit to carry it with him concealed in public. He said the political hysteria in response to the pandemic was not a huge influence on him; he was more worried about the possibility of an increase in crime as people face financial dire straits and turn to desperate means.
“There’s a bigger financial crisis going on now. It does make me fear that somebody might break in, trying to make some money. So many people are doing crazy, random stuff. That definitely rushed the urgency for me,” Kowalk said.