Gun sales surge as uncertainties stoke fears
By ALLISON ROSS
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 01, 2008
DELRAY BEACH — Consumers may be cutting back on going out to eat and buying new clothes, but at the Delray Shooting Center off Linton Boulevard, guns remain good as gold.
“Business has gone up dramatically in the past year – the last couple months especially,” owner Mike Caruso said. “I’m selling 15 guns a day. … Let’s just say business has been rocking.”
Although Florida does not keep records of gun sales, federal data show background checks needed to purchase a firearm are up sharply in the first nine months of this year. In Florida, concealed weapon permit applications in September jumped 52 percent compared with September 2007.
And it’s not just any gun. Handguns and semiautomatic weapons, not hunting rifles, appear to be leading the way.
The reasons: a sour economy that some fear will increase crime, and worries about gun regulations if Sen. Barack Obama wins the White House.
“There are so many uncertainties right now in the country,” said Susan Lipschultz, co-owner of Liberty Guns Inc. in West Palm Beach. “It’s the economy, the politics, the concern of an anti-gun Congress and president.”
Jeff Lovering, 52, was at the Self Defense Shooting Center in Port St. Lucie on a recent morning, having bought his first gun three months ago.
“I figured I better buy it now,” Lovering said of his .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun. “Obama – he’s up there in the polls. He’s looking like he might win.”
Gun sales are up about 10 percent this year, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which analyzed federal excise taxes on firearms sales and the number of checks that went through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
In Florida, there were 405,738 such FBI checks in the first nine months of the year, a 30 percent hike. While those checks don’t always translate into gun sales, it’s one of the best indicators available, said Kristen Perezluha, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Further, 22,249 Floridians applied for a concealed weapon permit in September, a 52 percent increase from September 2007, according to the Division of Licensing in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“You look at September last year and September this year, and it’s pretty amazing,” said Connie Crawford, division director.
The recent Florida Gun & Knife Show at the South Florida Fairgrounds reflects the trend. According to an employee, sales of ammunition were up about 20 percent, while handgun sales were up 11 percent.
Handguns and semiautomatic weapons in particular are flying off shelves.
Gunmaker Smith & Wesson, in its latest quarterly report, revealed similar trends: Specialty rifles and shotguns in the hunting division fell, while sales of other products rose.
Similarly, Lipschultz said the economy has forced some recreational hunters and shooters to cut down on buying new guns, but sales of handguns are up.
And Joe Fordham, owner of Palm Beach Trap & Skeet Pro Shop in Wellington, said he fields daily calls about where to buy handguns, which his store does not carry.
Economy down, crimes up
People often buy guns during periods of uncertainty, said Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Lovering, for instance, may have purchased his first handgun in advance of the presidential election, but he plans to teach his 21-year-old daughter to shoot it as a means of self-defense.
“We’re facing an economic crisis, and there’s this background assumption that crime will go up,” which may lead people to buy more guns for personal safety, Kleck said.
While the economy may or may not be a contributing factor, certain crimes are up in Palm Beach County.
After two straight years of decline, robberies and larcenies in the county grew last year by 3 percent and 6 percent, respectively. Statewide, property crimes are up by more than 3 percent in the first six months of this year.
At the Delray Shooting Center, “we lost a portion of our client base because the economy is weaker, but we gained some in our firearms for the exact same reason,” said Caruso, who gets 50 to 60 people each week in his concealed weapon classes.
“Our economy’s garbage,” summed up Jacob, a West Palm Beach resident shopping at Liberty Guns on Monday. Jacob declined to give his last name for fear of being burglarized and having his guns stolen: “Robberies could occur because of desperate people.”
‘Don’t Believe Obama!’
Politics is another concern. WhileObama has said he supports the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, he also favors tighter state restrictions.
“He’s not exactly friendly to gun rights, to say the least,” Lipschultz said.
A poster reading, “On the Second Amendment, Don’t Believe Obama!” is taped to the counter in her store.
Lipschultz is not a huge fan of Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s stance on gun control either, but his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, really “understands the importance of the Second Amendment,” she said.
Nelson Waite, owner of Gator Guns & Archery Center in West Palm Beach, also reports sales are up because of concerns about Obama’s gun policies.
“Every time we get an anti-gun president, people get nervous and start buying guns,” Waite said, adding that people worry about the impact of a shifting political climate.
Florida State University’s Kleck has seen it before.
“During the Clinton administration in 1993, when it became clear they were likely to pass an assault weapons ban, gun sales went up tremendously,” Kleck said. “Most guns people bought had nothing to do with the ban, but people didn’t know it at the time.”
At Gator Guns & Archery, Waite said, “When (Bill) Clinton got ready to go into office, gun sales just quadrupled at my store.”
Joe Rice, manager at Delray Shooting Center, said he is not panicked about the possibility of Obama’s becoming president, but he is preparing.
When the Clinton-backed 1994 Semi-Auto Gun Ban went into effect, the price of certain semiautomatic guns skyrocketed.
“All Clinton’s crime bill did was create a commodity,” Rice said. “It turned a $700 rifle into a $3,400 rifle.”
So Rice has stocked up on weapons such as the AK-47 assault rifle and the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle – two firearms he believes would be subject to new regulations.
If that happens, he said, “the prices will go up, and I’ll quadruple my cash.”