December 18, 2012

Gun sales spike in Maine, across nation

Retailers say incidents like the massacre in Connecticut, as well as talk of new regulations, can spark a reaction by 'the just-in-case buyers.'

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Gun retailers in Maine have seen sales jump since Friday's deadly shootings in an elementary school in Connecticut.

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At Howell’s Gun & Archery Center in Gray, Adam Copp, the company president, said Monday that horrific crimes like Friday’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn., “just escalate fears. ... All across America, people feel such uncertainty about morality in general.”

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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They said the reaction has been similar to spikes in sales after other mass shootings, such as the one in a cinema in Aurora, Colo., in July.

"All across America, people feel such uncertainty about morality in general," said Adam Copp, president of Howell's Gun & Archery Center in Gray. "There's so many break-ins, crimes, and horrific crimes like this just escalate fears."

In the three days after the shootings in Colorado, background checks for people seeking to buy guns surged more than 40 percent nationally, to 2,887 requests, compared with 2,012 in the same period a week earlier, according to Bloomberg, which cited the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

A similar increase followed the shootings at a shopping plaza in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011, in which six people died.

In the U.S., the National Instant Criminal Background Check System is used to verify whether someone is allowed to buy a gun from a federal registered dealer. The check does not indicate whether the person actually buys a gun, or buys more than one gun.

The number of background checks increased to 16.8 million from January through the end of November this year, a record number since the FBI began publishing the data in 1998. There were 16.4 million checks nationally for all of 2011, according to the FBI.

In Maine, there were 79,418 requests for background checks in the first 11 months of this year, an increase from 73,127 last year, according to the FBI.

Gun retailers said that even before Friday's attack, sales were brisk because of the holidays, on top of a spike in sales after the re-election of President Obama, which fueled concerns that the administration may pursue gun-control policies in his second term.

The school shootings in Newtown, Conn., prompted a new wave of sales over the weekend.

"After every incident of mass violence, gun sales increase. It's a reminder that it's a rather violent society," said Jeff Weinstein, president of the Maine Gun Owners Association in Yarmouth. "People don't just jump out and buy a gun. They're already thinking about it. Incidents like this just serve as reminders. Statements from politicians make them feel it's time to take action."

Obama said Sunday that he would use "whatever power this office holds" to try to prevent more tragedies like Newtown's.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Sen.-elect Angus King of Maine have indicated that they could support significant changes to the nation's gun laws.

Stock prices of gun manufacturers and retailers fell Monday amid speculation that politicians will seek a renewed ban on assault rifles. Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. dropped 5.3 percent, while Sturm Ruger & Co. fell 3.5 percent. Outdoor retailer Cabela's Inc. fell 6.2 percent.

Sonny Staley, owner of Staley & Sons Gun Repair in Waldoboro, said wholesalers around the country sold out of ammunition for assault rifles immediately after Friday's shootings, with gun owners concerned about potential new regulations.

"Every time something like this happens, sales skyrocket," Staley said. "The reaction is immediate. Prices go up drastically."

Staley said he has received an increasing number of calls from shoppers who want assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns.

Hussey's General Store in Windsor doesn't carry assault rifles, but reported a jump in handgun sales over the weekend.

"A lot of it's obvious. A reaction. A lot of first-time gun buyers, the just-in-case buyers," said Jasen Pelletier, manager of sporting goods at Hussey's.

The store typically has strong sales before Christmas and in the spring, when people get their income tax refunds, Pelletier said.

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