Sam Bishop stood Tuesday at the counter of Sharp Shooting Indoor Range and Gun Shop. He was looking at a gun for home security while he felt he still could, he said.
“I want to be just one step ahead of everybody else,” said Bishop, who was checking out the Spokane gun store’s selection of pistols. “I don’t want to come in here to get something left over that nobody wants.”
Bishop isn’t the only buyer rushing to a nearby firearms dealer. Spokane gun stores are reporting increased sales since the Newtown, Conn., school massacre Friday, which has sparked talk in Congress of potential gun control legislation.
Sales already appeared to be up in 2012 before the latest tragedy. The FBI, which operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, reports record gun background checks for the year. The FBI ran checks on more than 16.8 million people through November nationwide. Even without December’s numbers, that’s a 2 percent increase from last year. About 444,000 of those were in Washington state.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including Washington’s U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, are promising gun reform in the wake of last week’s school shooting, as well as the Clackamas Town Center shooting in Portland.
The lawmakers say that at the very least they will push to reinstate the Clinton-era ban on certain types of semi-automatic rifles often called assault weapons. The ban expired in 2004.
“My biggest fear is what our lawmakers are going to do,” Bishop said. “I just think the future for recreational and self-defense is potentially being jeopardized with the way our lawmakers look at gun ownership.”
Sharp Shooting owner Robin Ball said sales set a store record on Saturday. The most popular seller is the AR-15 style of semi-automatic rifle that was used in the Connecticut and Aurora, Colo., shootings. Ball said it’s a sporting rifle, usually used for hunting or competition.
There are a number of factors for the increased sales, Ball said – crime rates, the impending “fiscal cliff,” the holiday season – but the biggest reason people are buying is the fear of a crackdown on gun ownership.
“It causes a lot of panic,” she said.
Mike Miotke, the manager at Double Eagle Pawn Shop in Deer Park, said sales were up 25 to 35 percent over the weekend in what he believes was reaction to the potential gun bans.
Miotke said sales also increased with President Barack Obama’s re-election, out of fear of firearms bans.
Gun background checks spiked in November, with more than 2 million checks compared to 1.6 million in October, a 25 percent spike. Washington showed a similar increase, with 50,000 checks in November compared to 43,000 in October, a 17 percent increase.
“Typically the Democratic regime is a little bit harder on the gun control,” Miotke said. “We stocked up for election results rather than a tragedy like this.”
Double Eagle’s supplier, Lone Wolf Distributors, actually sold out of magazines over the weekend. Owner J.R. Shepherd said in one day the company, based in Oldtown, Idaho, made 503 sales when it typically makes 50 to 75.
“President Obama is the best president we’ve ever had” for the industry, Shepherd said.
But banning guns is not the solution to combating gun violence, Ball said.
Ball, who is also the election coordinator for the National Rifle Association, said there are people to whom the store refuses to sell guns: people who, for whatever reason, set off the store employees’ “sixth sense.”
But for Ball, the question remains: Where can government draw the line?
“You cannot legislate stupidity, and you can’t legislate crazy,” she said.
Bishop, who purchased a pistol Tuesday, said the government shouldn’t try to punish law-abiding citizens for the acts of criminals like the Connecticut school shooter – and even if they do, gun control isn’t the answer to stopping such tragedies.
“They’re not going to do anything to stop these kinds of things like Columbine or over in Clackamas Town Center or Connecticut,” he said. “Lawmakers aren’t going to do anything to take care of that.”