Coronavirus: Panicked people rush to buy survival gear, guns

With life increasingly disrupted, more panic buying has erupted due to the coronavirus. 

And in addition to disinfectants and other household goods, guns and survival gear are in demand. 

"Lots of flavors, spaghetti, chicken burrito," said Raymond Prather, looking through the selection of MRE's or Meals Ready to Eat at his military surplus store.  

As frenzied stockpiling has stripped supermarket aisles, people are coming into Victory Stores in Vallejo to snap up MRE's.

"We're bringing pallets up all the time now, and even our supplier in southern California is having trouble keeping them in stock," said Prather. 

The compact meal packets are usually purchased by hikers and campers.

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ith life increasingly disrupted, more panic buying has erupted due to the coronavirus. And in addition to disinfectants and other household goods, guns and survival gear are in demand. March 12, 2020

But now they're headed for people's pantries. 

Medical kits and food-grade storage tubs are also selling.  

"Any survival equipment because people want security, to feel like they're prepared," said Prather, "and they don't want to have to leave the house to get groceries."

The 70-year-old store usually sees an uptick after natural disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires.

Said store manager Joe Mason: "People are kind of paranoid right now, and want something on hand if the food supply is disrupted so they feel they have some control over their situation." 

Also seeing a big surge: Gun dealers. 

"I've sold 12 handguns in two hours," said Gabriel Vaughn, owner of the Sportman's Arms in Petaluma, laying the guns out on his store counter.  

Purchases during the past week are five times normal, and ammunition too. 

"Any time people are uneasy, sales go up, and it's always the same, guns and ammo," said Vaughn.


A Novato father and son were shopping for a gun, but not out of fear.   

"It does seem a little out of control, but people react they way they react," said Doug Michener, who planning to buy son Dimitri a gun for his 21st birthday. 

Both men understand why people might be motivated to arm themselves. 

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"If our police force gets infected, who's patrolling the streets, who's going to keep us safe?", posed Dimitri.

"You don't want to get looted, you don't want people to get your stuff so you want to protect yourself and your family." 

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The Michener household has organized supplies for any emergency, a disease outbreak no exception.  

"People are not coming to get a gun to look for trouble, they're getting a gun for a home-protection situation," said Doug.  

The store owner has also seen an increase in Asian customers, who allude to harassment they are receiving over the epidemic.

"I had a Chinese customer come in who was afraid because a message had been left on his door from someone in the neighborhood, and this is a man born in America," said Vaughn, "and it's pure ignorance, and very sad." 

Most of the virus-driven buyers are first-time gun owners, who admit they are ambivalent about the purchase. 

"People who tell me that they don't like guns, but they're here to begrudgingly buy one," said Vaughn, "and if it makes somebody feel safe and they're legal to own one, then sure."


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Debora Villalon is a reporter for KTVU.  Email Debora at and follow her on Twitter@DeboraKTVU