POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A global pandemic and a nationwide reckoning on race and police brutality has led Floridians to their local gun shops.
“In light of everything going on, now is the time,” said David Guillermo, who lives in Lakeland. He said he has considered buying a gun for a few years.
With images of violence across the country and a new baby to protect, he found himself at a Polk County gun store Wednesday.
“I just want us to be able to protect ourselves if things were to go how they have been in New York and Lakeland the other day,” said Guillermo. “Hopefully I never have to use my gun, but I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
A peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in a local park led to unrest a few blocks away Sunday.
The next day, Sheriff Grady Judd warned looters about Polk County gun owners.
“If you value your life, you probably shouldn’t do that in Polk County because the people of Polk County like guns. They have guns,” he said. “If you try to break into their homes to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.”
Bill Lambuth, owner of Shooters Firearms in Lakeland, has seen gun sales at least triple all spring.
“Big spike in sales from COVID to civil unrest. Increase in ammo, guns, pretty much everything,” he said. “A lot of them never had one and said it’s time.”
Unlike reports from other areas in Florida, he has been able to maintain his ammunition supply.
“I’ve had pretty good stock of ammunition throughout, but from what I’ve been hearing from my distributors, 95 percent of people are having a real issue with ammo,” he said.
Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement shows there were 66,000 more background checks for gun sales and transfers this May compared to May 2019.
March and April also saw a large spike in background checks.
“It’s just crazy. It’s up to city leaders, mayors and police chiefs to keep the peace and keep order. When they’re not doing it, people have to do it themselves,” said Lambuth.