News Column

Gun Stores Report Surge in Sales

July 26, 2012

Craig Schneider, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Fears stirred by the Colorado movie massacre sent Glenda Peppers to a gun store Wednesday, right after the Villa Rica resident applied for a permit to carry a gun in public and signed up for a gun safety course.

"If you can't walk into a movie theater and feel safe ..." she said, trailing off as she contemplated the awful prospect. "I'm a widow. I just felt I needed protection," said the 67-year-old, as she shopped for a gun at Stoddard's Range and Guns in Douglasville.

Gun stores across metro Atlanta -- and the nation -- reported a surge in firearm sales following the mass shooting Friday that killed 12 people and injured dozens of others. Some gun buyers said they felt an urgent need to better protect themselves and their loved ones. Others said they wanted to take action before any movement emerged to increase restrictions on gun ownership.

Day-to-day gun sales frequently fluctuate, but figures from states scattered from coast to coast showed a bump in sales and license applications.

In Washington state, King County, which includes Seattle, saw nearly twice as many requests for concealed pistol licenses than during the same time frame a year ago. Florida recorded 2,386 background checks on Friday, up 14 percent from the week before. Oregon checks on Friday and Saturday were up 11 percent over the month prior. Four days of checks in California were up 10 percent month-to-month.

Exact figures in Georgia were unavailable Wednesday, but several gun shops reported higher sales. However, spot checks with a handful of metro Atlanta counties found no increase in the number of applicants for permits to carry weapons.

Adventure Outdoors in Smyrna saw a "phenomenal day" on Saturday, the day after the incident, said owner Jay Wallace. He sold over 200 guns -- rifles, handguns, shotguns -- more than double what he usually sells.

"There were a lot of conversations," Wallace said. "They know the liberal Democrats will try to pass legislation for more gun restrictions."

Some Democratic lawmakers in Congress cited the shooting as evidence of the need for tougher gun control laws -- particularly a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines. Congress, however, hasn't passed strict legislation in more than a decade, and leaders in Washington show no sign of bringing up such measures any time soon.

Be that as it may, this weekend at Stoddard's saw more people buying guns and using the shooting range, said owner Ken Baye.

Patti Aleshire was already convinced she needed a gun prior to the mass shootings. She was at the store's gun range Wednesday working on her shooting stance.

"My husband and I talked about it," the 57-year-old retired nurse said of the incident. "I think we need to be prepared. It's like being prepared for a tornado."

In Georgia, a person buying a gun must undergo an electronic background check, performed at the store. These checks can often occur within moments, though Wallace of Adventure Outdoors said the surge in sales slowed some checks to an hour.

Obtaining a license to carry requires more extensive screening. Each county's probate court handles requests, which require the applicant to provide photo identification and proof of residency and to be fingerprinted.

The wait time for approval is about three weeks, and the permit costs about $75 in most counties. People are ineligible if they have had a felony conviction or a recent drug or firearms conviction.

Officials of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which performs the background checks, said Wednesday they don't yet have data to indicate whether or not more Georgians are applying for licenses.

In Colorado, Dick Rutan, owner of Gunners Den in suburban Arvada, said requests for concealed-weapon training certification "are off the hook." His four-hour course in gun safety, required for certification for a concealed-weapons permit in Colorado, has drawn double the interest since Friday.

In the three days after the massacre, in-store background checks for gun purchases in Colorado jumped 25 percent above the average Friday-to-Sunday period for this year.

"What they're saying is: They want to have a chance. They want to have the ability to protect themselves and their families if they are in a situation like what happened in the movie theater," Rutan said.

The suspected Colorado shooter, James Holmes, is in solitary confinement at an Aurora, Colo., jail. He is due in court again Monday, when it is expected that authorities will formally charge him with multiple counts of murder.

Peppers, the Villa Rica woman who wanted a gun Wednesday, said she couldn't get the incident out of her head. She imagined she was there in the theater, ducking for cover, feeling "totally helpless."

"I'm praying for the people in Colorado, and I'm praying that nothing like that happens to me," she said.

Mike Liam, an accountant from Roswell, already owns a shotgun for home defense, but the movie shootings helped convince him that he needed protection in public. He purchased a Ruger LC9 handgun Wednesday for about $400 and a holster that fits inside his waistband. He's also applied for a permit to carry a weapon.

"I need to take other steps to be protected," said Liam, 27. "I need to make sure my family and myself are safe."

Nationally, the shootings have triggered a fierce debate over gun control and whether government has a role in reining in the ownership of firearms.

Gun sales often fluctuate based on news events, especially whenever people think the passage of more restrictive gun laws is imminent. Sales spiked following the election of President Barack Obama, when weapons enthusiasts expressed fear that the Democrat might curtail gun rights. FBI figures also show background checks for handgun sales jumped in Arizona following the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Carrying a gun in Georgia

You may legally store your firearm in your home, motor vehicle or place of business without holding a license.

If you use your gun for hunting or sporting, a current hunting license lets you carry it outside your own property.

If you do not have a current hunting license and intend to carry a gun outside your own property, you must apply for a license with your county probate court.

Licenses are available to legal residents over the age of 21 who provide proof of ID and pass a criminal background check. Persons are ineligible if they have:

--been convicted of a felony;

--been convicted of a drug misdemeanor or a violation of the state's firearms laws and did not complete all punishment at least five years previously;

--received inpatient treatment for substance abuse or mental illness within the previous five years.

Source: State of Georgia

Source: (c)2012 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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