The issue of gun control has ascended to the top of the political agenda following the massacre of school children and teachers in Newtown, Conn.
But event as the arguments concerning assault rifles are mounting, so are sales of AR-15s and similar weapons at sporting goods stores across the country.
Van’s Sporting Goods on County Road 222 in Cullman was sold out of assault rifles by Friday. Jennifer King, an employee at the store who fielded a call about sales, noted that at least 25 people were at the gun counter at that moment.
“We’re completely out of them (AR-15s) and all of ammunition and clips are gone,” King said. “When (President Obama) started talking about bans on assault rifles and more gun control, the sales picked up.”
In fact, sales have been brisk all week at Van’s. Overall, gun sales have been steady since President Obama won his first term. Why?
“The first four years he never mentioned gun control, but people were just skittish. Maybe because of the Democrats and the feeling that something would be banned,” said Greg Adams at Cullman Guns Ammo & Pawnshop.
Adams, whose father, Stuart Adams owns the store, said all assault-type weapons were sold out by Friday.
“It’s been non-stop since 8:30 this morning, and we’ve had some long nights getting forms turned in to the ATF (Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) for approval. It’s just easier at night because the phone lines are not as busy,” Adams said.
While not all customers discuss their political views when shopping for guns, both Van’s and Cullman Guns’ employees hear a fair amount of talk about the fear of bans on weapons.
“My dad tells the customers who ask about bans that anything can happen in the future, but for now you have access to these weapons,” Adams said. “The last effort was under President Clinton, which put a limit of 10 rounds per clip in these guns. If that bill is reinstated we would likely see that happen again. But the only person it hurts is the consumer, and our customers are being screened properly. They are not the people doing the wrong things, but they are the ones who would be hurt by an effort to ban the weapons.”
For now, Van’s and Cullman Guns will continue to be open over the weekend, Christmas eve and the day after Christmas. Although the AR-15s are sold out, the interest in handguns and other guns remains high among customers.
Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper and Sheriff Mike Rainey both expressed reservations over what effect a ban on assault rifles or the size of ammunition clips would have on crime.
“I’ve always advocated providing training for anyone who is interested in purchasing a gun. Some states already require the training, and that’s something that would really help the state of Alabama,” Culpepper said. “The safety training would make the user more competent and it would mean more safety for those around them.”
Nonetheless, Culpepper said police officers train regularly with their weapons and must be skilled in loading and reloading. He said anyone who uses a gun frequently can do the same.
“You may reduce the size of the clips, but a magazine change doesn’t take long. You can see the issue from both sides, but I’m not sure it would have any effect,” Culpepper said.
Rainey reported a busy week of area residents seeking pistol permits from the Sheriff’s Office.
“We’ve really been busy with that, but I can tell you that we check the background of anyone seeking a permit. If someone has a felony record, he will not get a permit from our office,” Rainey said.
The aftermath of the Connecticut shooting was bound to raise strong emotions among Americans and reach the political arena, Rainey said.
“I know it’s a tough situation. But I know that people in our part of the country generally enjoy their guns and are not much in favor of more laws. But I would be surprised if the Clinton ban doesn’t come back, which limited the size of the clips and placed some other restrictions on certain types of weapons. That law didn’t really have any effect, because violent crime was already on the way down.”
Rainey said as sheriff he would abide by and enforce whatever law is in place. However, he noted that the mass killings this year and in recent years were carried out by people with mental problems.
“I think we definitely need to find more ways to keep guns out of the hands of people who are unstable, but to punish the law-abiding citizens is wrong. I love guns, but I could be guaranteed that not another 6-year-old doesn’t get killed, I would gladly turn in my guns and all my clips,” Rainey said. “But what they are talking about at the national isn’t going to make any difference. There are a whole range of issues involved in tragedies like that in Connecticut. The first priority should be strengthening ways to keep weapons away from people like the man who shot those children.”
David Palmer may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.