WEST WARWICK, R.I. -- There’s a run on ammunition as gun owners worry about defending their stockpiles of supplies. (“While people stock up on toilet paper, other people stock up on items to protect the toilet paper,” said one gun shop owner.) Rhode Islanders can’t go out to eat or drink, shop at the state’s largest mall, or even go to Catholic Mass.
CVS stores are limiting the amount of hand sanitizers and wipes they can buy. Twin River Casino has shut down. The line outside the Division of Motor Vehicles in Cranston snaked out the door and wound around the parking lot for hours on Monday. Unemployment claims are soaring, food pantries are preparing for a major surge in people who need help, and hospitality workers are losing their jobs.
Rhode Island isn’t just shutting down; because of the coronavirus, daily life is changing in sometimes profound ways.
“It’s the unknown factor. It’s unprecedented. We’re in uncharted territory,” Raymond Andreozzi said as he waited on customers at his father’s busy Heritage Gun & Coin shop Monday. “What if there’s a mandated quarantine? What happens if people run out of food?”
Fitness studios, coffee shops, senior centers, pools, and recreation centers -- all the usual social gathering places where anxious people could find comfort and companionship -- began closing down Monday, indefinitely. Even the strip clubs in Providence, which have outlasted mayors and police raids, had to close.
The places that are busy: gun stores.
Regular customers as well as people who have never picked up a firearm crowded into gun stores across the state, driven by the wildfire news of shortages of ammunition.
People are stocking up so much that distributors can’t meet the demand.
“They are buying ammunition like they can shoot the coronavirus,” said Kyle McCarthy, the owner of Midstate Gun Company in Coventry. “It’s the same as watching people buy toilet paper." He’s been getting e-mails from suppliers telling him they are running out of ammo. That’s a problem not just for his sales, but also for his adjacent gun range, which may have to close as soon as next weekend.
But it’s not just the ammunition. McCarthy had to remove the toilet paper from the range’s public bathroom because people were stealing it.
“I feel like this is ridiculous," he said. "This shouldn’t be happening.”
Some buyers lined up outside the D&L Shooting Supplies store in Warwick wore surgical masks.
At the Heritage gun shop, the customers streamed in all afternoon, all asking for ammunition.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” said Justin Butler, 29, of Providence, as he tried to buy up all the boxes of 9mm ammunition. “It’s better being prepared than being caught off guard, food-wise and ammunition-wise.”
Providence resident Dante Lopardo, 34, and his younger sister have never fired a gun, but they are buying shotguns because they each have young children and want the guns for protection. Lopardo said he stocked up with $500 worth of groceries at BJs back when President Donald J. Trump restricted travel from China.
He worries about what is coming next.
“It might be overdoing it, but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” Lopardo said while filling out a form for a background check.
Heritage owner David DeLoia hadn’t seen a rush like this since after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. Then, people bought guns because they thought certain firearms were going to be banned.
This is different, DeLoia said. He has overheard customers discussing their reasons, which he summed up this way: “When it gets bad, the have-nots will have to try to take it from the haves, and that’s when you’ll have to defend the Ponderosa.”
DeLoia said he thinks concerns about the virus are overblown -- “This is not going to be a zombie apocalypse" -- and that the overbuying of toilet paper is ridiculous.
“At least when they do an autopsy, their asses will be clean,” he said.
However, like stores limiting the number of toilet paper rolls per customer, DeLoia was limiting the number of boxes of ammunition. He took care of his regulars and those buying guns first.
The hottest sales were 9mm handguns and 5.56 rifles, the two most common guns for home defense. “While people stock up on toilet paper, other people stock up on items to protect the toilet paper,” Andreozzi said.
This, too, shall pass, the gun shop owners said, and like toilet paper, the ammunition will eventually go to good use.
“When the calamity is over, they’ll use it up at the range,” DeLoia said.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at email@example.com