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Worries about government, economy, prompt spike in non-hunting gun sales

| Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, 11:40 p.m.
Keith Moore, an employee at the Army & Navy store in Latrobe, shows customer Jared Pleskovitch of Ligonier a handgun on Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Valley News Dispatch
Jim Waltenbaugh, left, of Kiski Twp., looks at a Ruger Mini-14 rifle held by salesman Blake Whaley at Schultz's Sportsmens Stop in Kiski Twp. on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch

Gunshop owners report a spike in sales of handguns and semi-automatic firearms because customers are concerned that the re-election of President Obama will bring stricter gun laws and are nervous about the nation's economic fragility.

“There's enormous concern about what's going to happen and any kind of potential bans,” said Debbie Schultz, the owner of Schultz's Sportsmen's Stop in Kiski Township.

“It's been a real significant increase. It's handguns and black guns like AR-15s ... not weapons related to hunting, but personal security,” said Mark Boerio, owner of the Army & Navy store on Ligonier Street in Latrobe.

“It's not just Obama's re-election. People say they are concerned with the way the government is headed and where it's going to lead with issues like the rising debt,” Boerio said.

Schultz said she hasn't seen a big increase in sales since Obama was re-elected, but many of her customers speak of their fears.

“Listening to my customers, it's twofold,” she said. “Half of them are worried about a ban on semi-automatic weapons, large clips, and that sort of thing.

“The other half is worried about the direction of the country and want to be able to protect themselves if something would happen,” she said.

Tom Melago, owner of Chestnut Ridge Knife & Bow shop along Route 982 in Youngstown, has noticed the spike in business. He was selling weapons at a gun show at Pittsburgh Mills Mall in Frazier, Allegheny County, just after the election “and the place was really packed.”

“Most of the people said if Romney had won they wouldn't have shown up. But it's not only firearms; there's been an increase in survival gear such as MREs (meals ready to eat), backpacks, knives and the like,” Melago said.

The fear of stricter gun laws appears to have taken hold nationwide.

According to the FBI, 1.6 million background checks were done in October through its National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That's up from 1.3 million background checks in October of last year.

Requests for background checks are a good predictor of future gun sales, because federal law mandates a background check be performed before a person can purchase a handgun.

This isn't the first time President Obama has drawn concerns about gun rights. The FBI reported a 13 percent increase in background checks after his election in 2008.

The spike in firearm sales is reflected in carrying permits in Westmoreland County, which are on pace to surpass 2011 numbers by well over 2,000, Sheriff Jonathan Held said.

According to the state police annual firearms report for 2011, 8,087 license-to-carry permits were issued in Westmoreland.

“We've definitely noticed an increase in firearm-carrying permits. But it's been the whole year, not just the last month,” Held said. “We anticipated issuing 10,000 this year, and we've already surpassed that.”

Hard-core gun owners are always concerned about issues that could spark stiffer control laws.

Gun sales soared in July after a man used a high-powered rifle to shoot 58 people, killing 12, during a showing of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colo.

During his first presidential campaign, Obama said he supported renewal of the assault- rifle ban, but he has yet to introduce any new legislation, of any form, regarding guns.

But not everyone thinks the president is out to take the guns out of their owners' hands.

The Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, the country's largest pro-gun control group, gave Obama a grade of “F” in 2010 for his lack of gun-control legislation.

R.A. Monti is a freelance writer. Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or ppeirce@tribweb.com.

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