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Bloomington Herald-Times

January 9, 2013

Gun sales spike locally
Call for gun control after Connecticut shootings prompts run at gun shops
By Victoria Ison
January 5, 2013

In at least two of Bloomington's gun stores, weapons are flying off the shelves.

"We're pretty much out of everything," Rick Moser said Thursday. He's a licensed gunsmith who's worked with the Bloomington Home and Personal Security Store on College Avenue since April. "Everything's on back order, and it's hard to get much of anything right now."

Moser called it the largest surge in firearms and ammunition buying ever. Whether or not that's true, media outlets across the state and country are reporting exceptionally high business at gun stores -- a trend also being seen in Bloomington.

The surge

Sales have jumped 50 percent at the Four Seasons Gunshop on Monon Street since the Connecticut school shootings, owner Eddie Deckard said. The store is out of AR-15s, one of the kinds of weapons used in the shooting in Newtown, and Deckard said he doesn't plan to order any more.

At the Personal Security Store, Moser said staff went from selling two to three lower receivers -- the body of the AR-15 -- each week, to more than 200 in the week following the Connecticut shooting. Specifically, Moser said, the spike came just after President Obama's announcement committing to address gun control in 2013.

Investors are a big part of what's driving the increase, Moser said. He said several have visited his one-room store in the past few weeks, buying up guns and gun parts -- particularly those in AR-15s and similar weapons like those used in Newtown -- that could be banned in coming months or years.

Investor action like that is not something Gary Butcher, owner of Leathers Limited Firearms in Ellettsville, ever wants to see. He said his business has a hunting-first focus and thus hasn't seen much of an increase in the sales of the types of weapons it stocks. But now he's worried that the ban-worry-induced surge in sales is going to disturb the gun market and the firearm-buying economy.

"I'm not seeing the manufacturers or distributors raising prices; it's crooked people trying to make a quick dollar and play on people's emotions," said Butcher.

He said if people keep buying assault rifles at higher prices, all kind of firearms could take a price hike soon enough.

"I think that's wrong, and I don't believe in that," Butcher said of rampant buying. "People who have never wanted one before are rushing out and trying to get certain types of guns. ... People are overreacting to something that may or may not happen."

Rights and speculations

One theory behind this particular surge is that it comes after both Obama's re-election and a shooting tragedy -- two events in quick succession that seem to have revived the Second Amendment debate, Indiana University law professor David Williams said.

"This is not a new phenomenon; every time gun control is in the air, people buy up a whole bunch of guns," said Williams, who has published several pieces on gun laws and the Second Amendment and said he owns a gun himself. He confirmed that the trend is to buy semiautomatic weapons or those with high-capacity magazines instead of simple pistols or hunting rifles, which are unlikely to be banned.

"One thing we know for sure is that the Second Amendment protects the right for an individual to own a handgun in the home for self-defense," Williams said. "That's as far as they've gone. ... It's reasonable that the right to bear arms will be limited in some way (in coming legislative sessions), but we don't know quite how yet."

Two of the three gun store owners interviewed for this story said they wouldn't be opposed to more regulation, at least when it comes to some secondary markets.

"I guarantee that I've been in places, I've been in gun shows, where they've not done a damn background check or nothing," Deckard of Four Seasons said. "That needs to be corrected."

Indiana law doesn't place the same regulations on individuals who sell firearms as it does on dealers, and both Butcher and Moser also said they've been to gun shows where sellers take advantage of loopholes in the law to let people leave with weapons purchased that day, perhaps without having undergone a background check.

Fed up with all this, Butcher said he wouldn't be opposed to more regulation and wouldn't be surprised to see it come.

"The government has to do what they have to do to protect the people, and that's why bans might be coming down," said Butcher. "People have brought this on themselves."

Butcher said tragedies like those in Wisconsin, Colorado and Connecticut this year make him think "we're living in a society right now where people have no remorse for what they do." He said too much emphasis by the media on the tragedies only exacerbates the problem and gives at-risk individuals who might consider similar actions something to "feed off."

The problem with regulation, however, is that it's hard to know where to draw the line, Moser said.

Unlike Butcher, Moser said he was very much against required registration of firearms. He cited the catch-phrase, "registration then confiscation" and said owning guns is a fundamental right of American citizens, a way for them to protect themselves from too much government.

"The Second Amendment was not put in place so we could go hunting and shoot rabbits and deer and stuff; it was put in place to protect us from the government," Moser of the home security store said. "Most of the fears people have now aren't about home invasion or fears of personal protection but fears of a tyrannical government. That's the road some people think we're heading down."

He cited news he's heard of military centers developing dangerous crowd control weapons and investing in other serious weaponry that could be turned on average citizens.

Deckard, too, said he's noticed a general concern by people who worry that the government is getting too large -- unstoppably so.

"We're fearing the government right now, and that's not the way Thomas Jefferson wrote it to be. The government should fear the people," Deckard said. "But I won't admit there's not some things that need to be done."

Not the only answer

Moser and Deckard both said that people, not the weapons themselves, are responsible for gun violence tragedies -- something IU professor Williams emphasized.

Williams said gun control is probably both necessary and likely for the nation right now, but stated twice that simply banning assault-style weapons can't be considered the only answer. He wants an emphasis on mental health, laws that require training and safety courses for gun owners, laws that require guns be kept in a safe in households with children and better funding of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms so that existing laws can be more effectively enforced.

"It's really unfortunate that we think there are these 'evil guns' around, and if only we can dry up all the evil guns we'll be OK," Williams said. "There are so many guns in America, you're never going to be able to dry up the supply. People are turning to this because it seems like something we can control. ... But we should not be thinking this is going to solve the problem."

What's being done now

Locally, Bloomington police said individuals can help solve any gun control problem that may exist by being responsible stewards of their weapons. Capt. Joe Qualters said in an email Friday that the department sees too many cases where guns are stolen from the glove boxes of unlocked vehicles, for instance. Being knowledgeable about weapons and responsible about keeping them out of the hands of both children and criminals can make for a safer community, Qualters said.

Training being launched by Bloomington's Safe and Civil City Program may also help make for a safer community, program director Beverly Calender-Anderson said. Beginning in late January, the "crisis preparedness" training will inform local nonprofits about security.

"We want people to be prepared and know what to look out for, what kind of thing you can do in a facility to make it more secure and be aware of what's going on," Calender-Anderson said.