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Fear and politics send gun sales soaring

Gunsmith, Frank Cobet, of the Get Loaded gun store in Chino, Calif., shows a customer an AR-15 rifle on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.

BARBARA DAVIDSON/LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

By REGINA ZILBERMINTS | The Sun Herald | Published: December 12, 2015

D'IBERVILLE, Miss. (Tribune News Service) — Noel White got his first gun when he was 7, from his grandfather. The Army veteran is working on adding to his collection and, though he has his doubts about the wisdom of allowing everyone guns, is considering applying for a concealed-carry permit.

Cameron Anderson is 42 years old and buying her first gun. She never needed or wanted one -- and she's still not completely comfortable with the idea -- but something's changed, she said.

"It's not like it used to be," are words heard frequently in Cook's Gun Shop in D'Iberville these days.

That, or some variation of "the world is going crazy."

San Bernardino. Paris. A shooting in a Biloxi Waffle House. Fear of refugees entering the United States.

Owners and employees of gun stores and shooting ranges across the Coast agree people have been buying more guns.

It's a trend happening nationwide as well.

Black Friday this year saw the FBI process a record number of background checks for weapon purchases. Experts, gun sellers and gun buyers disagree on whether the spike is the result of a desire for self-protection or fear of an impending federal crackdown, and on whether the reaction is knee jerk or well reasoned.

"People are concerned," said Mike Creel, manager of Cook's Gun Shop. "They always have been, but sometimes events will make them think about it more."

Changing world?

White, who has several rifles and handguns at home, knows the consequences of easily available firearms better than most. His 25-year-old nephew was killed in New Orleans last weekend, possibly during a robbery -- the second time in the young man's life he had been the victim of a shooting.

White said he isn't sure Americans wouldn't be safer if the U.S. didn't have a Second Amendment, if the only people who had guns were military and police. But he acknowledged the benefits of an armed society -- and that the prevalence of guns was likely impossible to undo.

So Thursday he made a payment on a handgun he had on layaway and admired an AR-15 at Cook's.

He doesn't have a concealed-carry permit but in the wake of San Bernardino, for the first time is considering it. He has the application.

"I wasn't in a rush to until all this started happening. It's crazy," he said. "I just think of the lives that could have been saved if someone had a carry permit.

"It's not like it used to be."

That feeling, that the world has somehow changed, is also what brought Anderson in.

The mother of two couldn't point to a single reason for her new purchase but said a combination of factors had convinced her.

So after thinking for a long time, she said, she took a class in October, and acquired a concealed-carry permit. On Thursday, she was at Cook's discussing with Jason Deere, who was behind the counter, what the best gun for her would be -- and how to keep it secure around her children.

Anderson said she didn't have a problem with exercising her Second Amendment rights, but she still wasn't completely unafraid of the weapon.

Another customer was buying a handgun for his wife as a Christmas present -- also prompted by recent national events -- and yet another just wanted a rifle for target practice, regardless of the world's news.

First-time buyers

Besides seeing a general increase in sales, Coast gun stores have seen a shift in demographics.

There have been more first-time gun buyers. There have been more women. And there have been customers who'd never before considered owning a gun.

They come in without knowing exactly what they want, just that they want to do something, Deere said.

"Because they're scared and they don't know what to do," he said.

Handguns have been popular. AR-15s have been "flying off the shelves."

Dad's Super Pawn owner Kevin Riley has also seen an increase, though he attributed it to President Barack Obama's latest call for more gun control rather than recent shootings.

"Right now, it's all first-time gun buyers," he said. "Just an astounding number of first-time gun buyers coming in and buying firearms."

'Good guys with guns'

For gun-control advocates, the trend is alarming.

A recent Gallup poll found 56 percent of Americans think the nation would be safer if more people carried firearms.

Most studies refute that assertion -- researchers over the past decade have found more guns lead to more crime.

People with concealed-carry permits have committed 29 mass shootings since 2007 -- more than they've stopped.

Simply having a firearm in the house is a risk factor for homicide and suicide.

According to numbers from the FBI, for every one justifiable gun homicide in 2012 there were 34 criminal gun homicides and 78 gun suicides.

Uptick in sales

On Black Friday, the FBI processed 185,345 background checks nationwide.

That's up 5 percent from the 175,754 on Black Friday in 2014.

Nov. 27 was a day before three people were killed and nine wounded at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs. It was five days before 14 people were killed and 21 wounded in San Bernardino, and nine days before Obama called for stricter gun control in an Oval Office speech.

But it was after a terrorist attack in Paris spawned fear and rumors across the U.S. about Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria.

The state Department of Public Safety actually issued fewer concealed-carry permits in November, 1,850, than in October, 2,096.

Spokesman Warren Strain said the department generally doesn't see spikes following national or local events.

But federal authorities ran 27,504 background checks in Mississippi in November. That's the most checks run in the state of any November since 1999 with the exception of two years: 2008 and 2012, immediately following Obama's election and re-election.

Protection vs. politics

After last month's Black Friday, the second-highest day for FBI gun background checks was Dec. 21, 2012. The fifth busiest was Dec. 20 of that year, the seventh busiest was Dec. 22 and the eighth Dec. 19.

On Dec. 14, 2012, 27 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Numbers nationwide didn't jump until after Obama's Dec. 19, 2012, call for greater gun control.

After that, there was such an increase in gun sales that a shortage of guns and ammo didn't resolve until a year later.

Although many on the Coast said they were buying guns to defend themselves and loved ones -- to be "good guys with guns," in the parlance of the NRA -- many gun sellers on the Coast said politics plays just as large a role, if not a bigger one.

"Every time President Obama starts talking about gun control, there is a noticeable increase," said Riley of Dad's Super Pawn.

He said he didn't start seeing sales spike this time around until after Obama's Oval Office speech.

That has proven true historically as well.

"We're seeing just a small increase but not near like it was when Obama got elected," said Randy Brownlee, the president of the Coast Rifle and Pistol Club. "He's the best gun salesman in the world."

Creel, at Cook's Gun Shop, said this spike isn't as severe as after previous shootings, and previous calls for more regulation.

As a general rule, a Democrat in the White House is great for business, local dealers said. A Republican is less so.

Deere said he's a little worried about shortages similar to 2012's and 2013's but Creel said the sudden interest is nothing new.

"I've been doing this 27 years, close to 28," he said. "I hear the same thing over the years. The world's been getting crazy for 28 years."

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©2015 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)
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