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Guns are displayed at a store in San Francisco. Locally, gun-shop owners say their sales have gone through the roof since the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
BY CATHY JETT
A Culpeper gun shop sold so many guns last week that the owner had to hit the road on Thursday, his day off, to restock at a Pittston, Pa., warehouse.
"Tuesday was my busiest day by far," said Nathan Richardson, who opened Cedar Mountain Armory six months ago. "People bought anything and everything."
According to several Fredericksburg-area firearms dealers, customers--including many first-time purchasers--have been buying guns in record numbers since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 left 20 children and six adults dead and prompted President Obama to raise the possibility of reinstating a ban on assault weapons.
"People are feeling that there's no reason not to carry a gun anymore," Richardson said. "After the Colorado shooting [at a movie theater in July that left 12 dead and 58 wounded], there was a mentality that if someone else in the theater had had a gun, things would have ended differently."
SSG Tactical, which is tucked away in Westwood Office Park in Fredericksburg, had its busiest day ever on Tuesday, and its stock of AR-15s, the type of semi-automatic rifle Adam Lanza used to kill 27 people, was nearly sold out by the end of the day. AR-15 prices start at $1,000 to $1,200.
"It's fear and terror of the government taking away their right to own this stuff," said manager Curt Sebastian. "It's basically fear, fear of government intervention."
Clark Brothers gun shop near Warrenton sold out of AR-15s on Tuesday, but that hasn't stopped customers from asking for them.
"The demand is running right now at probably 50 times the inventory," said manager Scott Carter. "Essentially right this minute, there's no inventory anywhere. It's gone. Until the manufacturer makes more to send to dealers, people are going to have to wait."
'police can't be
The numbers back up the gun dealers' statements. Virginia State Police said the agency processed 4,166 back ground checks to purchase guns the day after the shooting--the highest volume of transactions in one day since the program began in 1989. It was a 42 percent increase over the number of checks on the same Saturday (Dec. 17) in 2011.
Carter said that sales were so strong partly because the rush to buy weapons happened in the midst of the hunting and holiday shopping seasons, plus it's human nature for people to want something when they're told they can't have it.
"The last time this happened, a huge number came back in the door after the fire went out of it," said Carter. "They'll have morning sickness over it or momma says, 'Get this out of the house.'"
A few firearms dealers, including Greentop in Ashland and Quantico Tactical in Quantico, refused to comment on their sales.
Dick's Sporting Goods, meanwhile, removed all guns from display in its store closest to Newtown, Conn., and has suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of its stores "out of respect for the victims and their families during this time of national mourning," according to a news release.
Dick's has two locations locally, one in Spotsylvania Towne Centre and the other in Cosner's Corner shopping center.
An increasing demand for guns is nothing new. Those firearms dealers who would talk said that gun sales have been on the rise for the past 12 to 18 months. And, just like after the Newtown tragedy, they soared in the wake of the shootings at that Aurora, Colo. movie theater in July and again after last month's presidential election.
SSG Tactical's and Clark's managers both said that the majority of their customers are buying weapons for self-defense. Others are recreational shooters or take part in shooting competitions.
"They realize that the police can't be everywhere at once," Carter said. "Some folks feel that they have to take some of the responsibility, and that's what they're doing.
"For a single mom, there's nothing worse than having someone break down the door and all you've got is a staple gun. That's probably an extreme case, but when it happens to you, it's real."
'people are scared'
These days, it's not just gun owners who are coming in to buy weapons, dealers said. Customers now include more soccer moms and grandmothers who've never purchased one before.
Justice Cucci, executive director of Cops-PI in Spotsylvania County, said that he started getting calls about a year ago from people who want to know if he teaches classes so they can learn to protect themselves.
"It's because of the economy and the shootings that have gone on," he said. "People are scared."
While he doesn't offer classes, several area businesses offer a variety of courses, including basic safety classes that can be applied toward getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon. They include 4 Permits, which holds its classes at the Gander Mountain store on State Route 3 in Spotsylvania County, and SSG Tactical.
SSG Tactical will offer a new, three-day Sudden Violence Seminar beginning Jan. 25 at the Kembativz Training Center at the Crucible off U.S. 17 in Stafford County. The course was being developed long before the Newtown shootings and is designed to teach students how to detect potentially violent incidents and unarmed combative techniques.
"It's not full yet," Sebastian said, "but it will be soon."
Demand for armed guards also is on the rise and likely to get stronger, according to both Cucci and Doug Rothell, an owner of Accredited Security Training at 2609 Lafayette Blvd.
"In Richmond, just about every grocery supermarket has an armed guard," said Rothell. "We're starting to see more of that in Fredericksburg."
Cops-PI provides both armed and unarmed uniformed security guard and patrol service personnel for a number of venues, including schools, hospitals and entertainment sites. Accredited Security offers the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services' required training for a license in the private security field.
"One of the things we're prepared for and are already seeing," Rothell said, "is security companies that hire our graduates ask for more and more people."
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407