By RICK WAGNER

This week I’d like to talk about firearms — but not the usual discussions about the Second Amendment or continuing efforts by some to restrict possession or ownership of firearms.

Instead, let talk about owning firearms in a time of social disturbance. We’re experiencing one now with this virus.

I thought this was important because of what I’ve learned from talking to firearms dealers. There’s been an enormous upsurge in the purchase of firearms and a high percentage of those sales are to first-time buyers.

The number firearms purchased over this last month has been record-setting, with 3.7 million background checks recorded for sales in the month of March and 1.2 million of those background inquiries occurring in one week. That first figure is the highest in 20 years and the second is the highest since 1998.

Usually, this kind of surge coincides with some broad governmental policy consideration that leads people to believe guns won’t be available or that certain types of weapons could become unobtainable.

This is only partially the case this time, coming from the actions of some state and local officials at various places in the country who decided firearms dealers were not essential businesses and should be closed — while at the same time releasing inmates over fears of viral outbreaks in jails and prisons.

Is it any surprise that some people became alarmed? Losing the ability to acquire a means of self-defense at a time when known criminals — some of whom were incarcerated for the protection of the public — are being released is a recipe for angst.

Add to that the anxiety from hoarding and panic shopping and you get a large number of people — even those who had never felt the need to own a gun for personal protection — deciding it might be necessary (or at least comforting) to have one on hand if a worst-case scenario develops.

This creates a novel situation. We have a considerable quantity of guns purchased by first-time owners at a time when they’re prohibited from attending classes or going to gun ranges to learn how to use them safely.

Nobody is more in favor of the right to possess firearms for personal protection than I am. But it takes time to learn to use them properly and safely.

Does that mean I am in favor of government-mandated instruction? No, because I believe the vast majority of Americans are smart enough to understand that a weapon has to be used responsibly. Part of that responsibility is taking the time to learn its operation.

Learning to handle firearms safely is compounded by an “intimidation” factor. People who are unfamiliar with them are reluctant to ask questions they believe others might consider foolish.

My answer to that is that anyone who would belittle or laugh at someone trying to learn about a topic new to them is an ass.

I can tell you that there are very few people I’ve encountered in my fairly long experience with the firearms community who would consider any legitimate question to be silly or unnecessary. In fact, many of us would leap at the chance to discuss our hobby — sometimes more than others want to hear.

If you’re a new firearms owner in this environment — where traditional methods of learning the operation, safety and the skills necessary to be really effective and confident with the weapon are not readily available — try internet resources like YouTube for some basic instructions.

If you know someone knowledgeable on the topic, give them a call and discuss it with them. Not only will they not mind, they’ll probably be quite pleased. You may not be able to practice much right now, but you can certainly learn the basics of the firearm you purchased and safety procedures for its handling and storage so it doesn’t go from a useful tool to a liability.

Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney. Email him at rickwagner@columnist.com. His weekly political talk show airs on KNZZ 1100 AM/92.7 FM on Saturdays at noon.

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