County gun sales shoot up
Published: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 12:12 a.m.
When he takes office, President-elect Barack Obama has plans to push for an economic stimulus package - upwards of $800 billion put toward tax cuts, infrastructure projects, school construction and other initiatives to help the struggling economy.
But even before Obama is sworn in, his election has led to an inadvertent economic stimulus package - for gun dealers.
With speculation swirling that Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress will pursue new gun-control legislation, news reports have documented steep increases in gun sales across the country.
The trend is present in North Central Florida as well.
"Business is excellent," said Sandy Brygider, owner of the Ocala Armory gun shop on U.S. 27. "I'd say we've done four months of business since the election. An anti-gun Democrat sells weapons, there's no question about it."
Barack Obama has said he believes the Second Amendment does give an "individual right" to gun ownership, and that he supports "common sense" gun-control measures.
The state doesn't track gun sales, but a check of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services records on concealed weapons applications backs up Brygider's statement.
The department distributed 42,895 concealed weapons applications in November, the most for a single month in seven years.
Brygider said people who have never owned a gun before are coming into his store and "arming themselves heavily."
According to Brygider, some of the customers are concerned about potential gun legislation, but he says some buyers have said they want protection if - "God forbid" - Obama is assassinated and "race riots" break out across the country.
Inside the Harry Beckwith Gun Shop along U.S. 441 in Micanopy, the sales rack holding bumper stickers - one reads "The Second Amendment: America's Original Homeland Security" - is fully stocked.
But co-owner Jerry Pickett said the store cannot keep assault and tactical rifles such as the AR-15 and the AK-47 in stock. He said that sales on those have risen more than 50 percent since the election, but the store's overall business has not equalled that surge.
Pickett said he did not believe Obama would target guns early in his term, but would later push for restrictions.
"Once the economy rebounds, I think the liberals will push the liberal agenda," Pickett said. "It would be political suicide to push a gun control agenda when the economy is suffering."
Al Stefanelli, co-owner of Bradford Gun & Pawn in Starke, said his store has also seen a rush on assault rifles by customers fearful it may be their last opportunity to buy them. Stefanelli welcomed the boost in business but questioned if people weren't, well, jumping the gun.
"People are freaked out but it may or may not be a long-term thing," he said. "I think it's people's minds running amuck, because the man's not even president yet."
Stefanelli said he believed Obama might not directly go after guns but may instead push for high taxes on ammunition.
"Everybody knows a gun without bullets is worthless," he added.
While the National Rifle Association is already campaigning hard against any new gun legislation, Paul Helmke, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told the political news Web site TheHill.com that Obama sought only "common sense gun laws" and not a gun ban.
In the interview, Helmke said Obama has consistently supported proposals such as an assault weapons ban and a requirement of criminal background checks for people buying guns at gun shows.
Passed under former President Bill Clinton in 1994, the assault weapons ban prohibited the manufacture and import of 19 different types of semi-automatic weapons and the manufacture of ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds. It also limited the number of combat features with which guns be equipped.
Guns and ammunition clips manufactured before the ban were grandfathered in and still legally sold.
President George W. Bush and Congress let the ban sunset in 2004.
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