MERCED — Merced County firearm retailers are seeing a huge spike in sales after the recent gun violence at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
The shooter killed his mother, then 20 children and six adults at the school before shooting himself. One of the guns used in the massacre was an AR-15 semiautomatic tactical rifle.
Despite their grief and sadness over the recent deaths, gun shop owners in Merced County expressed concerns after some lawmakers' calls to impose more regulations.
Blair Gladwin, owner of Gladwin Guns and Ammo near Merced, said the focus should be on mental health rather than gun restrictions. "It's the easiest and fastest solution, they feel, to the problem," he said. "They have to concentrate on the mental issues and fix that if they can and then work on the other things."
With the issue of gun control recently pushed to the forefront, sales have surged for Gladwin, who said about 75 percent of his recent sales have been AR-15s.
"Anything I had in inventory was basically sold in a day and a half" as gun control talks began, he said. "I think that's what got everyone in a panic."
With Christmas coming and the issue of gun control at the center of the national dialogue, Gladwin said he's "easily doubled" his sales. "Now, pretty much nation-wide, everything's on back order."
Though it's spiked in the past few days, an increase in sales started when President Barack Obama was elected to his first term, Gladwin added. Many people were concerned the president would push for more gun regulations. "You could say he's the best gun salesman of the year, four years running," he noted.
Across town at Gunrunner on Yosemite Park Way, owner Gary Mitchell said he's tripled his AR-15 sales in the past couple of days, and that it's part of an upward trend in gun purchases. "The first big spike is when (President) Obama got in," Mitchell said. "That's when it all started."
He also is in favor of better addressing mental health issues and arming teachers, if necessary, as opposed to stricter gun regulations.
Mitchell fears that gun bans will create a black market and only take them away from the law-abiding citizens. "The gun issue, I've always said, is a power issue," he said. "Those who have the guns have the power. It's just the way it is. And so if your average guy is denied a firearm and obeys the law, he is subject to the individual who doesn't obey the law."
Instead of rushing into bans and regulations, Mitchell said legislators should take a step back, allow the nation to mourn the loss, then examine ways to prevent gun abuse. He thinks banning guns isn't the answer, that they're the easy target. "We keep focusing on an inanimate object, and it's easy to focus on an inanimate object because they can't speak for themselves," he said.
But those inanimate objects are in the forefront of criticism from many organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Earlier this week, the organization sent a letter to Obama, encouraging several gun control measures, such as restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Mike Sperry Jr., owner of the Third Street Armory on Main Street in Livingston, said California's gun regulations are very strict and any new federal regulations would affect other states more.
He also has seen more people coming through his doors, and his store is sold out of AR-15s. Sperry said he's gotten calls from San Francisco to Los Angeles from people who want to buy one.
Area gun shop owners said people are interested in AR-15s reasons that include their customizable nature and suitability for coyote hunting. Gun shop owners said the weapons are fun to shoot at targets and on the range.
Besides being concerned over additional gun control, Gladwin said there's another problem with banning guns such as the AR-15.
"If (a) ban goes through, there are a lot of companies that, all they do is make either the AR gun or components that go on that," he said. "So now what are you going to do? Put all these companies out of business? How many people are going to lose their jobs because of this ban?"
Gladwin said if a ban on the guns goes through, it will suppress hopes of an economy recovery.
"It's unconstitutional to restrict it," he said. "It's our Second Amendment right to bear arms."
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.