Gun sales surge amid new talks

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 30, 2013 

As gun control proposals start to emerge, local gun sales continue to surge.

Possible restrictions on the state and federal level have people racing to gun shops such as the Third Street Armory on Main Street in Livingston.

Owner Mike Sperry Jr. said his sales have tripled since gun control's been pushed onto the national stage. Other local gun shop owners have reported spikes in their business of 75 percent or more.

A lot of the interest is in AR-15 semiautomatic tactical rifles, which legislators have proposed banning following recent shootings.

That interest has gotten so strong, gun retailers can't keep the firearms in stock.

"I get phone calls from L.A. to the Bay, and before I even say 'Hello,' I say, 'I don't have any ARs, I don't have any lower parts kits, I don't have any stripped lowers,' " said Sperry of the AR-15 rifles and components.

Gun shop owners say people commonly buy AR-15s because they're fun to shoot, easy to customize and good for hunting small-game animals.

"Blasting and destroying cans, paper targets — there's nothing more fun," Sperry said. "It is the ultimate customizable gun. Any color you want, any configuration you want. And that's Americans — we don't want to be the same, we all want to be a little bit different."

But among the restrictions being pushed by President Barack Obama is a ban on "assault weapons," which could curtail sales of AR-15s.

His proposal has garnered some support. Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in a 2011 mass shooting, encouraged Congress to get behind the gun restrictions in a speech she gave Wednesday.

"Violence is a big problem," Giffords said. "Too many children are dying -- too many children. We must do something."

But many are at odds about how to prevent future acts of violence, such as the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 20 children and several adults dead.

Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II, co-chairman of the California District Attorneys Association Legislation Committee, said the common denominator in the recent massacres is mental health, and he thinks that needs to be addressed.

"As a longtime gun owner and hunter, I take the Second Amendment very seriously," he said. "Many of the things that have been proposed as solutions, I'm not confident are going to address some of the core issues."

The recent shootings are self-contained incidents, Morse said. They're not indicative of national gun violence trends.

"Gun violence in the U.S. has been going down for the last decade or so," he said. "Violent crime has gone down."

The goal for Morse is to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals.

"Clearly, there was going to be a response to the carnage in Newtown, and there should be," he said. "I'm not threatened by debates about Constitutional issues. I think it's very healthy."

Though business is hot right now amidst the gun control talks, Sperry said he's having a hard time keeping up his inventory to meet demand.

"Whoever had a billion dollars in inventory made a lot of money, but the little guys like me, we're scraping along," Sperry said.

In the meantime, the gun fervor doesn't show any signs of slowing down.

"Everyone's concerned with, 'If they get this passed, what's next?' " Sperry noted. "I understand that concept. Where does it stop?"

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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