Dealers: Increase In Gun Ownership, Concealed Carry Permits Part Of ‘Obama Boom’
Ben Wolford – Naples News
More people are buying guns and getting permission to carry them, with nearly 1 million Floridians now authorized to have a concealed weapon, state records show.
Local arms dealers and shooting range operators say they are busier, and they attribute it to the uncertainty of a presidential election year. But they also point to the primary reason for owning handguns: personal safety.
“Fear equals consumption,” said Eric Sandberg, owner of Centennial Arms of Naples, recalling a line from the 2002 anti-gun documentary “Bowling for Columbine.”
Statewide, the number also rose in March, bringing the total to 919,831 licensed Floridians. That’s about one in 17 adults.
The new permit numbers come one month after national attention turned to gun laws and ownership in Florida surrounding the shooting death of an unarmed teen in Sanford. George Zimmerman, a concealed carry permit holder and neighborhood watch volunteer, has claimed self defense under a controversial “Stand Your Ground” law since he killed Trayvon Martin in February.
Despite the recent uproar, none of the local gun owners and dealers interviewed for this story attributed the uptick to fear of vigilante gun toters.
Instead they pointed to what one called the ” Obama boom,” a worry that the Democratic president would tighten gun laws. His possible reelection has renewed those worries.
“People are beginning to realize that their liberties are potentially in jeopardy,” said Robert Stokes, president of the Florida Sport Shooting Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
Barack Obama has said he wouldn’t “take away folks’ guns,” and gun control has not been a marquee issue in his presidency. But that hasn’t allayed concerns.
Lubomir Zalesnak, manager at the LouLand Gun Club near the Picayune Strand, said he hasn’t been so busy in five years. Wayne Bergquist, a gun dealer off Pine Ridge Road, said March sales were up 10 percent compared to last year.
Reliable sales figures are difficult to find. But the FBI, which screens those seeking to buy guns, releases background check totals. In the first three months of 2011, the agency performed 171,376 checks in Florida. Checks are up 14 percent in the first three months of this year.
“It’s easier to buy a fully automatic firearm than it is to get a drivers’ license,” said John Thedford, owner of NFA Sales, a Lehigh Acres-based dealer of “class III” weapons. That includes silencers, grenade launchers (but not explosive ammunition) and Uzis that fire out a briefcase.
While others argue getting a drivers’ license is much simpler, obtaining a machine gun usually requires a background check, a signature from law enforcement and a $200 fee. Owning such weapons does not require a concealed carry license from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Approval for a concealed carry permit in Florida requires fingerprints and background checks, plus firearms training classes.
The new concealed carry figures are part of a general upward trend in the state, going back to 1998-1999, when 26,807 new concealed weapons permits were issued. Nine months into this year’s July 1 – June 30 tracking period, new permits are at 107,059.
“Gun owners are by and large very responsible citizens,” Stokes said.
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