Feared backlash on guns sparks sales
BARBOURSVILLE -- The impending fear of gun control legislation still has cash registers ringing at firearm dealers across the Tri-State.
The main issue has become depleted inventories for those dealers, their shelves overrun in mid-December by anxious shoppers who hurried to purchase guns, ammunition and accessories in wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Within days of that shooting, President Barack Obama started pressing lawmakers for a comprehensive solution to limit mass shootings, a response he contends should include gun control and restoration of the 1994 ban on the sale of assault weapons that expired in 2004.
Many heard that call and rushed out to buy guns of their own.
The response nearly overwhelmed Rich Blakeman, owner of Classic Jewelry & Loan in Barboursville. It forced him to eliminate discounts, limit purchases, cut the store's layaway program and hire off-duty law enforcement as security.
"It was mayhem in the store," he said in recalling business from Dec. 17, hours after Obama spoke at a memorial service in Newtown.
This past summer's movie theater shooting in Colorado, Obama's re-election and the holiday shopping season already had created an atmosphere favorable for gun retailers.
Sandy Hook pushed sales to another level.
"It has exploded," said Brian Bowling, owner of Ultimate Pawn & Performance in Hurricane, W.Va. "Everything about it -- guns, accessories, ammo. People are just basically buying anything and everything they can get their hands on."
No organization publicly releases data on gun sales. That leaves FBI background checks as the best measurement of sales activity.
The latest data shows the Bureau processed 6.57 million background checks between August and November, the four months following the July 20, 2012, movie theater shooting. That represents a 21.5-increase nationwide compared with the same time period in 2011.
In West Virginia, the FBI processed 81,116 checks in those months, up 19 percent from the previous year.
December tallies have not been released, but Bowling has little doubt. He estimates the post-shooting rush caused a 2- to 3-hour delay in processing an otherwise routine, 5-minute FBI background check.
The story has been much the same in Ashland, where Todd Borders found himself documenting his depleted inventory Wednesday at Borders Sporting Goods.
"I can't hardly keep ammunition," he said. "Our inventory is probably as low as it has ever been."
Replenishing those shelves won't be an easy task.
The three dealers said it will come at a cost. For instance, Bowling estimates an AR-15, similar to the weapon used by the killer at Sandy Hook, last month retailed for $679. Now one of his suppliers warns that model's wholesale price tag could skyrocket to $1,409, raising the retail price to $1,500.
Blakeman questioned those estimates, but acknowledged a slight increase is inevitable in light of the demand that still exists. He pointed to telephone calls his store has received from Colorado, Georgia, Texas and New Hampshire. He also mentioned a recent sale of 10, AR-15 rifles, in which he offered the guns via a late-night email to 2,000 clients.
He had a crowd waiting at the store by 9 a.m. He was sold out, with background checks completed within 90 minutes.
"If you've got something to sell, you will sell it," Blakeman said.
The rush has affected more than just semiautomatic rifles.
David Cohen, president of Mack & Dave's in downtown Huntington, said his store witnessed an increase in business unlike any in previous years. It comes despite inventory that has long focused on handguns and more traditional hunting firearms, while steering clear of the powerful semiautomatic weapons.
"Everybody is scared (lawmakers) might do something about the gun business," he said.
Dick's Sporting Goods temporarily suspended the sale of military-style rifles in wake of Sandy Hook, and Walmart deleted one such rifle from its website.
Neither Blakeman, Bowling nor Borders are contemplating a similar stance. They believe banning such weapons would have little impact, each saying issues involving Sandy Hook and other mass shootings are far greater than simple access to a firearm.
Follow Curtis Johnson via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD and http://facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD.
Concealed carry permits
The Cabell County Sheriff's Office received applications for 175 concealed carry permits in November, followed by another 156 in December. Sheriff Tom McComas said those numbers represent a small increase as his agency typically processes 125 to 160 applications each month.
The data include both first-time applicants and renewals. McComas said the permits allow citizens to carry concealed handguns. They do not pertain to military-style rifles, referred to by some as assault rifles.