Assault weapons have sold out in many Central Florida gun shops following President Barack Obama's promise to make gun control a "central issue" in the wake of the Newtown elementary school massacre.
For the second time in four years, gun dealers reported daily sales matching as much a month's worth of business.
"It started as soon as the president spoke on Tuesday," said Eileen Reig, who has sold guns and taught marksmanship for 45 years at Reig's Gun Shop and Range in Orlando. "Washington has started a panic...Everybody just needs to take a deep breath and calm down and see what happens."
Gordon Schorer, the owner of The Gun Shop and Gun Range in Leesburg, had just two assault rifles left for sale on Monday.
"I jacked up the prices -- two grand," said Schorer, who sold at least 30 AR-15's usually priced at about $1,200 as well as several hundred high-capacity magazines for all types of semi-automatic pistols and rifles. "Gypsies were coming out of the woodwork buying whatever they could get their hands on to re-sell."
In a nationally televised appearance last week, Obama's spoke of holding a national dialogue on limiting access to guns after about 200,000 people had signed online petitions calling for measures to limit murders and other gun-related violence. The president's remarks came after a shooter armed with a Bushmaster .223-caliber assault rifle killed 20 first-grade children, six educators, his mother and himself on Dec. 14.
Concern among gun owners "went viral" last Thursday, according to Reig, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned "confiscation" of assault weapons might be an option to prevent future massacres.
There is no indication yet if the pre-Christmas run on guns will last as long as the first buying frenzy during the 2008 election campaign; that continued through the early months of Obama's first term. Hoarding of ammunition became so common at the time that gun shops across the country waited weeks and sometimes months for new supplies.
Whatever happens, Florida -- with its one million active concealed-weapon permit holders -- likely will lead national trends. Florida crossed that milestone just last week, according to the state Department of Agriculture, which issues the permits.
The biggest selling firearms this week were variations of the AR-15 assault rifle, a civilian model of the military M-16 and the same style weapon used in the Newtown killings.
Neal Crasnow, the owner of three Al's Army-Navy stores in Central Florida, sold out his entire stock of 10 to 15 AR-15's in two days last week.
"By Thursday, basically everything was gone," he said.
Customers also bought several hundred 30-shot magazines and his entire two-month supply of .223-caliber ammunition. Typical ammunition sales to AR-15 owners had been about $45 for 100 rounds, but buyers last week bought 250 to 1,000 rounds before supplies ran out.
"If you like to shoot that weapon, you can shoot 100 rounds quickly," Crasnow said of the rifle, known for its accuracy, rapid fire, light recoil and low weight.
As the national debate on gun control continues, Crasnow questioned how gun buyers' background checks can better incorporate mental-health status to prevent sales. Adam Lanza, the Connecticut shooter, was said to have possible mental-health problems, though the weapon he used was purchased legally by his mother, Nancy.
Current background standards did not prevent gun sales to James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 more in July in an Aurora, Col., movie theater, or to Seung-Hui Cho, who murdered 32 people and wounded 17 more in 2007 at Virginia Tech.
"I'll follow whatever the law says," Crasnow said.
Schorer, the Leesburg gun dealer, and other dealers spoke of their sadness and revulsion over the Newtown massacre but said stricter gun control would not prevent similar killings.
"It's a shame what happened. But if the gunman had walked in with a machete, would we ban machetes?" said Schorer, who favors increasing the number of armed adults to protect schools. "Banning guns is not the solution to the problem...They're going to push the American people so far, and the American people are going to push back."
Arthur C. Hayhoe, head of the Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, has been one of the state's few vocal opponents to largely unrestricted gun sales for more than 40 years.
His latest issue is the National Rifle Association's stance that armed educators could prevent school killings like Newtown and Columbine, Col. Saying that his telephone has been ringing off the hook from Floridians supporting stricter legislation, Hayhoe favors assigning armed -- and trained -- police officers to every school and warns against relying on teachers.
"Training and vetting [of Florida weapon-permit holders] is so poor, they're a danger to themselves and everybody else," he said. "You want to put somebody in a classroom with a gun who took a one-and-a-half-hour class, went to a range and went 'pop' once? That's ludicrous."
Unlike some other states, Florida does not require CWP applicants to demonstrate shooting skills other than to safely load, fire and unload a handgun.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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