story and photos by Josh Taylor Souza, special to The City Wire
Second Amendment rights are much like the 100-meter-dash, in that every four years they seem to take center stage.
During an election year, gun control is often the tipping point that can cause a ripple effect from politicians down to the general public.
This was never more evident than in 2008, when local gun sales were up more than 20%. Like most sequels – "Obama Part II" – hasn't seen the same eye-popping jump in numbers, but sales are on the rise yet again, according to industry insiders.
"It is not unusual (for us) to see gun sales rise during a campaign year. I think there are a few factors that play into it," said Jon Gunther of Ozark Armory in Springdale. "We saw a bigger jump in sales (in 2008), but they are up again this year as well. I suppose some people feel like they may lose their right to own a gun or a concealed weapon."
Gun dealers across Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith report sales gains are up in the low double-digits compared to a year ago.
"Our sales are up at least 10 to 12% over last year," said Ron Garrett of G.I. Guns in Rogers. "Not exactly what we saw the last time around ('08) but I think that particular year was different because of the uncertainty in that election. People didn't know what was going to happen and the economy was in much worse shape four years ago. Fear is as good a reason as any to guy a gun."
Cooper’s Gun Shop in Fort Smith says interest in concealed hand guns has been higher this year.
“We usually see sales spike a little between January and April due to changes in the political landscape, but this year there is more interest in the concealed hand gun ownership,” said Kenneth Williamson, shop owner. “The smaller guns that are easier to conceal are most sought out by women and senior citizens.”
He also said used gun sales have been really popular for the first time since he can remember.
“I guess it’s a function of the economy, but lots of folks are asking for used guns. You know many times a gun will only be fired three or four times by an owner and they are built to fire 5,000 or more rounds. We have seen more gun trading and buying used among a large segment of the public,” Willamson said.
Gun manufacturers on the national scene say they are firing on all cylinders to backfill orders.
Smith & Wesson, one of the largest gun manufacturers in the United States, announced last month it’s back-logged on orders, more than double what they produced in 2011. Sturm, Ruger & Company Inc. is on pace to beat its own record of 1,114,700 firearms produced in one year, a milestone set in 2011, according to president and CEO Mike Fifer.
"It took us nearly all of 2011 to build one million firearms, but in 2012 we accomplished it on Aug. 15. We expect 2012 will be another record-breaking year for Ruger," Fifer said in a press release.
Ruger reported a 49.5% increase in net sales revenue through the first half of 2012 over the year-ago period. Net sales totaled $231.9 million compared to $155.1 million.
More than half of Americans say they have at least one gun in their home and that number increases among southern households, according to a recent Gallup poll. But it takes more than just citizenship and no felony record to own a gun these days.
In Arkansas you must be a state resident of at least 21 years of age to own a handgun. You must have a valid driver’s license and pass a background check. Some armories and shooting ranges require safety classes on concealed firearms to become a member.
To own a long-gun, typically used for hunting, the owner must be at least 18 and have a driver’s license in a state that touches the Arkansas border.
"Buying a gun isn't hard, but passing the required back-ground check is where some people have trouble," said Garrett. "Those screens are very thorough. It isn't just a past felony that can cause a red flag. It also considers drug abuse, domestic abuse and driving history. I think some people are surprised by how tough it actually is to get a license for their firearm. But it should be that way."
Over the past three years, background checks required for gun sales have risen consistently, according to federal records.
The National Instant Background Check System, overseen by the FBI, performs background checks for potential gun owners. From January through August of 2012, the number of background checks for potential gun sales in Arkansas totaled 135,444, up 10.39% from the same period in 2011. Compared to 2010, the number of background checks in Arkansas has risen 18.85%, according to NCIS data.
Some 10,000 baby boomers are turning age 65 every day and this mega-demographic is arming itself against growing violence, according to local gun safety advocates.
“Women and seniors are buying more guns because they have to protect themselves. Retired folks spending more time at home are often victimized by violent crime and they can shoot even if they can’t physically fight off an attack,” said Williamson. “You know the thought of a 65-year-old woman who can shoot a gun, could be the best deterrent against home robberies.”
Don Mongold, owner of Mongold’s Custom Gun and Knife in Kibler, has taught gun safety classes in the Fort Smith area since 2002.
“The majority of folks taking my gun safety, and particularly the concealed handgun class, are senior citizens (age 60 and above). That has been the case for the past couple of years,” Mongold said.
He expects to see a surge of new applicants come January following the general election, particularly if gun advocates were to lose seats in Congress.
Heber Rosas, a sales consultant at Ozark Sportsman Supply in Tontitown, also sees growing interest.
“We teach the concealed permit classes once a month and we have been full each time with 40 participants for most of this year," he said.
He added that about half of those taking the class are women and the majority are either retired or near retirement age.