Shootings spur rush to buy arms in Western Pa.

| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Concern for personal safety and worry that the Connecticut school shootings would bring a crackdown on gun ownership are pushing Western Pennsylvanians to gun stores, self-defense classes and the sheriff's office for gun permits, security and business leaders said on Monday.

“There are way more people coming out, and it's because of all the speculation,” said Debbie Schultz, owner of Schultz's Sportmen's Stop in Kiski. She said customers worry that Congress might reinstate a ban on military-style rifles that expired in 2004.

Nearly every customer who looked recently at a semiautomatic rifle bought one, Schultz said.

Allegheny County recorded 131 requests on Monday for concealed-carry handgun permits, up from 78 applications on a typical day, Sheriff William Mullen said. Westmoreland County issued 102 permits, busier than a typical weekday but part of a yearlong boom, said Sheriff Jonathan Held.

The July shooting deaths of 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater also increased handgun applications, Held said.

“After that, we did notice it got a lot busier,” he said.

Political, cultural and seasonal factors have been driving demand, but the shooting deaths on Friday of 27 children and adults in Newtown, Conn., brought renewed urgency during the weekend, retailers said. As talk of a need for stricter gun laws intensified in some circles, others looked for better protection.

“Everybody's worried about what's going to happen,” said Wayne Lykenis, owner of Island Firearms in Neville. “People overreact to things, and that's what they're afraid of.”

Emotions remain raw. Many committed firearms enthusiasts, including gun owners and store managers, declined to speak for publication.

State police, who handle background checks for would-be gun buyers in Pennsylvania, could not say whether they were fielding more requests.

At the Inpax personal-defense company in Allison Park, President Sam Rosenberg said more school officials called about critical-incident training for teachers.

He would not say how many districts expressed interest, though he confirmed they are in the Pittsburgh area. The training prepares teachers to deal with violent intruders until police arrive, Rosenberg said.

“It sort of fills a void between an intruder alert, when there's an indication of a problem, and law enforcement's response,” he said. “If any possible bright spots could come out of the Connecticut massacre, I think school districts are going to take security issues and security measures seriously.

“Some have been very good in the past about wanting to be proactive, and others have been very myopic, kind of short-sighted in their mentality.”

Several Western Pennsylvania school districts, including South Butler and Butler Area, began arming guards.

Another school district, Chartiers Valley, decided to begin preparations to have school resource officers at all of its schools. Superintendent Brian White reviewed school safety measures and plans with Collier police Chief Tom Devine and Scott police Chief Jim Secreet before making a formal request to the two townships to establish the program.

A few people asked Inpax about training in personal protection, Rosenberg said.

Ted Wilkes, 50, of Hampton underwent such training with his son Cronin, 14, for a year.

“At the end of the day, your personal security is your responsibility,” said Wilkes, whose classes included firearms lessons and human interaction in crises. He said an increase in violence in the United States and abroad prompted him to enroll.

At Braverman Arms Co. in Wilkinsburg, manager Keith Savage said he noticed no sales increase but some conversation about the Connecticut attacks. A feared crackdown on high-powered weaponry “is, I think, in the back of everyone's mind.”

Savage said he doesn't know how more regulation would prevent such violence, but said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the town in Connecticut.”

At South Side-based Firearms Instruction, Research and Education Institute, Executive Director Peter Georgiades said it's “really too soon to tell” whether more people will seek gun training. Outrage is a common reaction he has heard since Friday.

“Running out and passing laws is impotent. You cluck like a chicken and run around waving your hands over your head — it doesn't do any good,” Georgiades said. “To address this thing, we should be talking to psychologists, not legislators or lawyers.”

Staff writer R.A. Monti contributed to this report.

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