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story.lead_photo.caption A mostly-empty rack that usually holds automatic rifles stands Tuesday in the middle of Boggs Creek, Inc. With demand for guns and ammo going up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, firearm shops like Boggs Creek, Inc. are struggling to keep up their supply. Photo by Liv Paggiarino / News Tribune.

Jefferson City area gun and ammunition shop owners said they are seeing the same national trends of higher gun sales this year — to a point where it's hard to keep up with demand.

At Ammo Alley, just off U.S. 63 in Callaway County, owner Doug Alley said the store normally restocks every month on many items, but not now.

"This is the lowest inventory we've every carried," said Jacob Laughlin, owner of Boggs Creek Inc. on Eastland Drive in Jefferson City. "We've sold more firearms already this year than we sold all of last year."

"Handguns and handgun ammunition are in very limited supply," Alley said. "By April and May, some of the items got down to coming in only at a trickle."

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that halfway through 2020, just more than 19 million background checks have been done to purchase or possess a firearm, according to FBI figures — more than all of 2012 and each year before that. Adjusted to reflect only gun purchases, the number of background checks for June was up nearly 136 percent during June 2019, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the AP reported.

"Mainly semi-automatic guns are the items that people are purchasing," Laughlin said. "Rifle ammo is also flying off the shelves."

At Ammo Alley, handguns and shotguns "seem to be the flavor of choice," Alley said.

Laughlin said this year's demand is coming from a mix of first-time gun buyers and regular customers.

"I'd say it's probably more regular customers than first-time folks," he said. "Most people want to get stocked up. They are wanting to protect their home. Others have land where they can shoot, or they go out to the local target ranges. It's something to do without the restrictions due to the pandemic."

Alley said he has been urging new gun owners to make sure they understand how to safely operate and store firearms.

"I've had people come in who have never picked up a gun in their life and decided they needed to get one now," Alley said. "We're doing a lot of beginners' classes lately. The demand for our conceal-and-carry classes has gone through the roof. I hope all new firearms owners are at least seeking out training and learn about the weapons they are picking up."

Gun safety includes understanding the difference in ammunition, he said. Target ammunition will not expand or fragment when it hits a target; defensive ammunition is specifically manufactured to create damage to the object or target it hits.

"The key thing we tell people is to keep weapons away from children," Alley said. "Store them in a personal safe. That should give you peace of mind so not everyone has access to it."

The Cole County Sheriff's Department issues new concealed-carry weapon permits and renewals. Sheriff John Wheeler said the department has issued 65 CCW permits this year, about the same as last year's 63 at this time. He noted the department did not issue any permits or renewals in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wheeler recommends gun owners get CCW permitted, as the CCW course teaches gun safety and marksmanship along with knowledge of the laws regarding justifiable force.

Alley and Laughlin said they don't see the high demand for guns and ammunition stopping anytime soon.

"We're buying anything we can get our hands on," Laughlin said. "The manufacturers can't make things quick enough, so you put things on backorder and that pushes orders further and further behind."

The Associated Press contributed information to this article.

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