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Posted on Sun. Apr. 05, 2009 - 03:00 am EDT

Fears drive hordes to gun shops

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There used to be a time when buying ammunition at Beber’s Shot and Sinker in Auburn was no problem – there were rounds aplenty in stock.

There also was a time when the gun racks in the store on Ensley Avenue were stocked full with 100, maybe 125, firearms for sale.

Not anymore.

Now, co-owner Donald Beber said, the shop has about 25 or 30 guns for sale. People who used to walk in and trade or sell their firearms no longer come around for fear the government is about to take their guns away, according to Beber.

And ammunition? Forget about it.

“A lot of ammunition we can’t get anymore because it’s all bought up,” Beber said. “Ammunition being made is all sold out to the end of the year. That’s what some of the distributors are telling us.”

A phenomenon

A gun-buying frenzy that seemed to sweep the nation before President Obama’s election has refused to die or even lose a hint of momentum. People who used to buy one box of ammunition at a time are getting five or six. People who never owned a gun or even thought about owning one are asking local law enforcement how to get a permit.

It’s a phenomenon that shop owners like Beber have never seen. Many in the gun business say fear of a renewed ban on assault weapons; worries that a sin tax similar to one on tobacco could be placed on ammunition; and a poor economy are factors behind the increase in sales.

Whatever the reasons, it’s not just gun aficionados who are stocking up or hoarding ammo and firearms. The trend is crossing socioeconomic and gender lines, according to gun shop owners.

“Friday nights, our parking lot used to be full of Chevy pickups,” said Mark D. vanBurk, president of H&H Firearms Inc. in Fort Wayne. “Now, we’ll see Lexuses and Mercedes-Benzes. Everybody is coming in.”

Record totals

VanBurk’s shop – touted on its Web site as Fort Wayne’s largest retail gun store – sold 2,000 to 3,000 rounds of ammunition a week this time last year. Now, it sells 22,000 rounds a week, according to vanBurk.

Often, vanBurk said, he has to close when it becomes too crowded, with the store’s limit of 60 people crammed inside. He’s had to hire extra security and, he said, business just keeps booming. He didn’t think the sales record set in December would be broken, but it happened in January and again in February.

In fact, a new sales record is set at the 38-year-old business nearly every month. Through the first quarter of this year, the shop did more business than in all of 2008, according to vanBurk.

“We’re not hyping (our business),” said vanBurk, who said his staff reminds people to stay within their budget and rethink their choice if they’ve never had gun training. The store offers a free course at its shooting range.

“It’s been complete chaos for six or seven months,” he said.

Change in D.C.

The buzz about guns began about a year ago, according to vanBurk, and picked up steam when it became clear that Obama had a shot at winning the presidential election. Obama’s administration supports making the expired assault weapons ban permanent, according to the administration’s Web site.

That scares many customers who don’t even buy assault weapons, vanBurk said. And though Obama’s Web site says the administration respects the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – people are worried about taxes put on ammunition, both vanBurk and Beber said.

“It’s totally out of hand,” Beber said. “A lot of guys were scared they wouldn’t be able to get ammo, so they’re buying it up faster than we can get it.”

More fears about ammunition arose when the Department of Defense changed its policy regarding “once-fired military brass,” which are brass shell casings fired once by a military weapon and then sold to ammunition manufacturers to be remade into a cheaper round.

Initially, the Department of Defense decided to use those shell casings as scrap and not resell them to gun manufacturers. That policy was quickly reverted back to the old policy last month, according to published reports.

Plus, the buzz about guns gets refueled when people like Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and Sen. John Kerry make trips to Mexico, vanBurk said.

Each politician went south of the border recently and came back saying there are problems with assault-type guns being smuggled from the United States into Mexico.

Economic link

VanBurk also said when the economy is sour, gun sales traditionally go up. Though business has never been like it is now, vanBurk said his shop’s data is consistent throughout 38 years: Bad economy equals good gun sales.

People, he said, read stories about cutbacks to police departments, robberies, crime in their neighborhood, and they want to protect themselves.

“The most common thing I hear in our showroom is that people have decided to take their safety into their own hands,” vanBurk said. “They feel uneasy that something is going to happen.”

Permits soar

Even law enforcement is feeling the effects of gun sales, taking many more gun permit requests than usual since October.

In March 2008, the Allen County Sheriff’s Department took 29 requests for gun permits. Last month, it received 213.

Through March 18 of this year, the Fort Wayne Police Department had received 241 gun permit requests for the month as opposed to 205 during all of March 2008.

Indiana State Police issued 7,784 permits in February 2008; two months ago, the agency issued 11,046, according to the department.

Statistics from the LaGrange and DeKalb county sheriff’s departments also show numbers for gun permits spiked sharply in the past year.

“People come up to me or call and ask, ‘Where do I go to get a gun permit? What do I do?’ ” Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries said. “One woman the other night, in her mid-60s, came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I got my gun permit.’ I’m not soliciting these calls.”

Fries echoed many in the gun business: People are worried about the government; people are worried about their safety. The increase in permit requests and sales is surprising to him, but he said his department will never take people’s guns away as long as the Constitution has the Second Amendment.

The apparent spike in permit requests surprises him, he said, and leaves him a bit worried about what it means with so many people buying guns.

“That’s my big concern,” he said. “If government doesn’t do what its citizens expect it to do, they’ll take care of it themselves.”

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