SALEM, N.H. — Across the region, gun store owners say they are seeing an increase in sales, particularly from first-time buyers.

"They are concerned about the way things seem to be shaping up," said Brian Barry, owner of Next Level Firearms in Salem.

State and local police say they have also noticed an uptick in background checks and permits. At the federal level, background checks are taking longer, seemingly because more guns are also being sold elsewhere, according to local gun shop owners. 

Barry said people are scared about crime increasing with the potential for inmates to be released from prison early and a bad economy looming.

"People are asking 'How do I protect myself if the government can't?'" Barry said. "Even in non-turbulent times, you are your first first responder."

Last week Barry saw the typical 15- to 20-minute process to background check for a handgun purchase take anywhere from five hours to the next day, he said.

The federal background check needed for a long gun purchase typically takes a minute or two. Last week it was taking about six hours and by Friday evening the system was "overwhelmed and not working" after the close of business, he said.

The Salem Police Department processes permits for locals, though gun owners are not required to have those permits. 

"We have seen an uptick in pistol permits," Deputy Chief Joel Dolan said, explaining that the people processing the permits have felt the recent increase.

As the town shuts down many non-essential services, the department will continue to process the permits within the 14-day time period, as required by law, Dolan said.

New Hampshire State Police have also received a large increase in requests to process the background checks for handguns.

"We've had record numbers in the last two days, to the point where we are still tallying them up," Lt. Michael McQuade said Monday morning. 

According to the most recent numbers released March 17, there has been a 45% increase in background check requests, according to state police. So far this month there have been 4,626 requests, compared with 3,186 total requests for all of March 2019.

Mike Baracci, owner of Second Amendment Arms in Windham, said his sales have also been brisk recently.

"There's nothing left," he said when asked about his supply Monday morning. "People are buying them for home protection because it's uncertain times. The regulars are already hunkered down and were prepared for a run (on ammo and guns)."

With the increase in sales, particularly to first-time owners, Barry and Baracci are trying to help people understand they have to train to use a gun responsibly.

"I tell people, 'It's your right, but you have to be careful with it,'" Barry said. "Shooting blindly into a dark room isn't something I'd suggest as self-defense."

While first-time gun buyers are purchasing, classes aren't happening at local businesses. Gun and Sport North in Salem posted a COVID-19 update to its Facebook page saying, "Classes postponed temporarily. Watch for updates. Thank you and stay safe."

"Guns aren't a practical answer to the world's problems, but they are a practical answer when someone is threatening you or your loved ones," Barry said.

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