Local gun shop owners can’t keep up with the demand from buyers in response to growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

FORT WALTON BEACH — Over the years, Sarah Adams came to despise the small parking lot adjacent to her business, Ranger Firearms & Mercantile.


In the last two weeks, it's become her saving grace.


"It's become convenient," said Adams, who has owned the store at 1130 Hospital Road since 2009. "It's helping minimize traffic. It's making people, at least, wait until there's a parking spot available and helps us keep just a certain number of people in the store."


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Adams' story is typical of the one playing out at gun shops all over the area overwhelmed by customers — new and old — in response to the growing worldwide panic over COVID-19.


"The distributors are all backed up," Adams said. "What I could normally receive in three days, maybe now I'm hoping to get in seven. Supplies are selling out at a distribution level across the board.


"That's guns, ammo, magazines, reloading supplies ... everything."


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In Freeport, at Copeland's Gun Shop (17290 U.S. Highway 331 S.), owners Danny and Sonya Copeland have experienced the same uptick in sales.


"(Distribution) has been erratic lately, and it's always been consistent," said Sonya Copeland, who with her husband has owned the store since 1982. "We can't keep up with the demand, but we're trying. We want to persevere and be there for the people in our community."


Both stores have put restrictions on ammo limits that vary between certain amounts and certain brands. Both stores understand the sense of worry that has come as cities and countries worldwide have essentially been shut down because of the worldwide pandemic.


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"We've had a lot of first-time buyers in the last week," Adams said. "People who were considering it for a long time but decided they shouldn't wait any longer. They want to be able to protect themselves and their families.


"The most difficult thing with the first-time buyers is explaining the three-day wait to get the gun, which is the law," she added. "The general population doesn't understand why they can't have it right away."


One thing new gun owners won't be able to do — for at least the next 30 days — is get a concealed weapon permit. An executive order has closed all Division of Licensing offices in Florida through at least April 19. In the same order, all permits set to expire in that time frame were given a 30-day extension.