Gun shop owner stresses instruction after run on guns

Gun store owner Raye Gunter is encouraging new gun owners to take safety courses. EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

As fear of the future grew in our community, toilet paper and hand sanitizer were not the only things unable to stay in stock. Handguns were flying off the shelves. Unlike toilet paper and hand sanitizer, however, there are other safety concerns that come with selling out of firearms.

On March 12 Gov. Kate Brown issued a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses, which included warehouses that ship ammo and firearms. Gun stores like Emerald Valley Armory were not required to close, but they were not able to prepare for the impact COVID-19 would have on their business or community either.

Raye Gunter, 50, has been the owner of Emerald Valley Armory at 147 W. Oregon Ave., for 10 years. As a child, Gunter’s father was a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer, and Gunter grew up going to gun shows. Before he owned his own firearm shop, he was in the Marine Corps for eight and a half years, six of them active duty. After the service, he said he privately sold and traded guns out of personal interest and worked at an indoor shooting range for over a decade.

“My earliest memory was going shooting with my dad. I think I was shooting .22s when I was 5,” he said.

Despite the extensive history with firearms, Gunter said he didn’t anticipate the number of first-time gun owners who came into the shop about two weeks after the pandemic began. Gunter said his biggest concern is that these new gun owners are not enrolling in training classes for their firearms. 

“By buying a firearm for self defense and not knowing how to use it … you’re buying a firearm for somebody else,” he said. “Because they’re going to come take it away from you.”

According to the Firearms Instant Check System (FICS), the number of firearm transactions between March 12 and June 1 in Lane County nearly doubled over the same time period in 2019. From the start of the shutdown to June 1, there have been 11,130 firearm transactions. There were just more than 6,000 in 2019.

The demand for firearms remains continuous and the lack of warehouse workers due to the Coronavirus makes it difficult to get more inventory, Gunter said. Inventory at Emerald Valley Armory is down 60%, and Gunter said at one point it had almost $40,000 worth of inventory sitting in a warehouse waiting to ship. The shipments it does receive are small, and it’s been nearly impossible to get the more popular guns, such as 9mm and AR-15s, back in stock.

While all ammo sold out within the first three weeks of the pandemic, the first firearms to sell out at Emerald Valley Armory were the defensive shotguns and popular 9mm handguns, he said. 

“Anything that was a recognized defensive product that anybody had ever seen in a movie – it sold,” he said. 

Gunter said most people know very little about firearms or are self-educated from watching TV and YouTube. He recommends that as soon as inexperienced gun owners can, they should take a class that involves shooting. In addition to Gunter, Northwest Arsenal and Cabelas also offer classes on firearm safety.

“The best way to learn something is to actually do it. Even in my entry-level class, you have to shoot,” Gunter said. “Until you get hands on, you don’t really know.”

Firearm safety classes are starting up at Emerald Valley Armory the last two weekends of July, and spots will first be given to those who had to reschedule their class due to the pandemic. The entry level-class offers education in basic handgun safety and personal protection. The class costs $75. 

“Nothing has compared to this, the pandemic,” Gunter said. “It scared a lot of people. My biggest advice: If this has driven you to purchase a firearm and it’s your first gun, get some training.”



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