KSL Investigates: Gun Background Checks, Sales Skyrocket In Utah

Oct 22, 2020, 10:10 PM | Updated: Oct 26, 2020, 2:06 pm

LAYTON, Utah — Alexandra Anderson, a 26-year-old mother of two young children, never considered getting a concealed carry permit until last spring, when unrest and violence dominated news headlines and made her feel uneasy.

Her fears began when Ogden police officer Nate Lyday was killed in the line of duty on May 28.

“I have a lot of law enforcement friends and so that hit pretty hard,” Anderson explained through tears at her kitchen table in Layton.

Two days later, what began as peaceful protests in downtown Salt Lake City calling for justice in the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, turned violent. A Salt Lake City police car was overturned and set on fire.

Alexandra Anderson with her family. (KSL-TV)

“It makes me emotional because you know, it’s just people that put their lives out there to protect us,” Anderson cried. “It’s hard when things do get out of hand on both sides. But, at the end of the day, we’re all people and there’s no need to bring that violence.”

That was her tipping point. Although her husband has had his permit for years, the young mother decided to enroll in a concealed carry course. She completed it in July.

“We’re not always going to be together. You just never know,” she explained. “I would do anything for my babies.”

Stephanie Barrick felt motivated to purchase her first firearm after noticing more crime in her West Jordan neighborhood.

“Unfortunately, that couple that was killed was just a few blocks from here,” Barrick said, referring to the murder of 31-year-old Tony Butterfield and his wife, Katherine, 30, on April 18.

“I never thought about getting one until one of the last times we were robbed, and they dropped their gun in our driveway,” she added.

Stephanie Barrick pointing to where the criminals allegedly left a gun in her driveway leaving the scene. (KSL-TV)

Barrick got her permit too.

First-Time Gun Buyers On The Rise

“We’ve seen more first-time gun buyers come in this year than we’ve ever seen in 10 years,” said Neal Currey.

Currey owns Ready Gunner – a gun shop and range in Orem.

Neal Currey, Owner of Ready Gunner in Orem. (KSL-TV)

“2019 was our biggest year we’ve ever had for gun sales. In 2020, we beat that number before we even hit June 1,” Currey said. “I’m not the only gun store doing well. There’s, you know, 20,000+ gun stores across the U.S. and everybody is selling guns like crazy.”

A 12-Year Snapshot

There’s an increasing demand for guns and ammunition.

“Inventory with all the manufacturers – everybody’s backordered, you know, months and months. Some are even years,” Currey said. “Seventy-thousand rounds gone in 48 hours, and that’s rationing it at two per person.”

Background checks for firearm purchases in Utah are the highest they’ve been in nearly a decade. Since Jan. 1, the state has documented 893,714 checks for people buying guns.

That’s a 203% increase over the past four years, and 2020 isn’t over yet.

The federal data, published by the FBI, calculates the number of background checks submitted through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.

In Utah, these background checks are tracked per transaction, not per firearm, meaning, there could be well more than 1 million new firearms purchased in the state so far this year alone. It is impossible to know the exact number because the state of Utah does not have a firearm registration database and does not track sales.

What’s Fueling Gun Buying?

So, what is fueling the increase in firearm sales in Utah?

Some experts point to political anxiety.

In Sept. 2018, just before the midterm election, there were 18,221 background checks done in Utah. In Sept. 2020, 114,660 checks were completed. That is a 529% increase, and the largest increase of all 50 states over that time period.

Compare that to Sept. 2016, the last presidential election year, when only 19,914 federal background checks were conducted in Utah.

National Percent Change Map

University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora said a spike like this comes as no surprise when you consider the divisive nature of American politics, with the presidential race front and center. From fears about Antifa to random acts of violence by followers of the QAnon conspiracy theory to a plot to kidnap the Michigan governor, Guiora said the country’s rhetoric is “increasingly problematic.”

“It’s geared to rile the base and delegitimize the other,” Guiora explained. “It’s a thin line between rhetoric, incitement and violence.”

Teddy Hodges, of Herriman, has been around guns his entire life. His most recent permit application was in August.

“I purchased a new home shotgun for protection,” he said.

Although Hodges admitted the upcoming presidential election may play a role in Utah’s rising numbers, he believes the pandemic was a major contributor.

“Retaining and having a supply of ammunition to carry out hunting activities, if it needs to be to support my family, that’s a concern,” Hodges said.

For him, firearms are a part of being self-reliant.

“Having basic household supplies, cleaning, toiletries, food. We saw that in March, April, May [and] June,” he said. “We’re one simple act away from catastrophe, and so it’s going to be upon you, upon your neighbors and upon your city and local government to help when those things happen.”

The data supports his idea, too. Utah saw 18,984 more background checks in March 2020 than in March 2019.

How Does Utah Compare To Surrounding States?

States with some of the highest annual background check data can be found on both coasts and everywhere in between. So far in 2020, states that have already passed 1 million background checks in just nine months include:

  • California — 1,183,460
  • Florida — 1,386,486
  • Illinois — 5,600,703
  • Indiana — 1,203,353
  • Kentucky — 2,364,376
  • Pennsylvania — 1,030,898
  • Texas — 1,730,278

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

Americans are using their credit cards more often as the economy opens....
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: The key to saving money on your credit card bills

More Utahns are carrying debt, but the thing is – many of those folks have no idea how much interest they are paying on their debt.
1 day ago
Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair

AmeriGas customers nationwide Get Gephardt after waiting weeks for propane

Calls to Get Gephardt have come from across the country, all having the same problem: missing propane deliveries. So, where’s the gas?
1 day ago
(Taylorsville Police Department)...
Keira Farrimond and Daniella Rivera

Questions surround convicted rapist’s release as police investigate aggravated sexual assault

Despite admitted anger issues and a recent history of assault, Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole released a convicted rapist back into the community last month. Now, he is charged with aggravated rape in an attack on a Taylorsville woman he communicated with while in prison.
1 day ago
Grant Clark waited for repairs on his car...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Orem man’s auto repairs take 13 months due to parts shortage

If your car needs minor repairs, be prepared to wait. That warning comes from a Utah County man who had to wait for more than a year for his car to get fixed.
3 days ago
Susan Lee Wilson, attempting to use her phone after another outage. (KSL-TV)...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Salt Lake woman battles phone company to fix 12-year-old landline problem

You pay for phone service, so you would expect to receive phone service. But when a Sandy woman’s landline kept going dead for more than a decade, she decided it was time to Get Gephardt.
4 days ago
A police officer walks by a crime scene trailer that is sitting outside the home of Michael Haight ...
Annie Knox and Daniella Rivera

When home isn’t safe: Experts see patterns, potential warning signs in family shootings

In Utah and on a national level, mass shootings mostly happen at home. While it’s not always possible to predict this type of violence, experts tell the KSL Investigators certain behaviors may predict future violence.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
KSL Investigates: Gun Background Checks, Sales Skyrocket In Utah