Sales in Capital Region gun stores and across the country have soared since last week’s mass shooting in Orlando.
It’s a phenomenon gun shop owners say they see every time there’s a mass murder incident like the Orlando killings or the San Bernadino attack last December.
Some people are buying guns out of concern for their safety, and others out of concern that new gun control legislation will be adopted.
“People ask all the time how’s business, and I say it’s good, but for all the wrong reasons,” said Steve Borst, co-owner of Target Sports in Glenville. “We want to be in business because people want to hunt or target shoot, not because they’re afraid of a terrorist attack.”
Many of the recent sales are to women and senior citizens, Borst said, not the categories traditionally associated with firearms sales.
“The industrywide spike in sales after the Connecticut school shootings was unbelievable,” Borst said.
Dave Leon, co-owner of B & D Gunsmoke in Rotterdam, said sales last week were up 53 percent, and three national LGBT organizations contacted the store about getting weapons and personal protection training for their members. He said the groups didn’t want to be identified.
The rise in local gun sales — and the new interest from the LGTB community in the wake of the Orlando attack on a gay nightclub — both reflect trends being reported nationally in the past week, according to news reports.
A total of 23.1 million firearm background checks were conducted in 2015, the highest annual total ever, according to the FBI. Even before the Orlando nightclub shooting that left 49 people and the gunman dead, 2016 was on pace to supplant 2015’s record, Time magazine reported.
The killings committed by Omar Mateen have sparked a new round of debate in Washington, D.C., about assault weapons and strengthening background checks.
That debate and prior gun control debates are a factor cited by gun sellers as driving business.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned down an appeal of lower court rulings that have upheld the heart of the SAFE Act, the controversial assault weapons law New York adopted in 2013, in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut.
“The tragedies in Orlando, Newtown, Aurora and communities across the country have galvanized Americans desperate to get our national gun violence epidemic under control,” New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said on Monday.
But the SAFE Act’s prohibition on assault weapons hasn’t banned semi-automatic rifles entirely — just prohibited those with various “assault” features, such as a thumb grip and bayonet mount.
Weapons shorn of those features are available with up to 10-round clips, and are selling, as are handguns.
“We’ve really seen an uptick in [sales of] most everything,” Borst said. “I’m seeing the most significant increase in people coming in and buying a semi-automatic, but also weapons for personal defense and home protection.”
Leon said sales at his store went up 53 percent last week alone, and the store heard from the three LGBT organizations. He said he can only conclude there’s a connection with the nightclub attack.
“All the calls came in after Orlando,” Leon said. “Everybody wants to be more vigilant. Everybody is concerned about safety.”
Craig Serafini, owner of Upstate Guns & Ammo in Schenectady, said he believes the sales increases that follow mass shootings aren’t products of the shooting themselves, but rather how politicians respond to them.
“We’re seeing more and more people coming in and saying, ‘I want to get this before the government tells me I can’t,’ ” Serafini said.
He said his store already had a “pretty strong” base with the LGBT community, but probably had new gay customers coming in last week.
“We don’t look at race, religions, or anything else, we just look at the clients themselves,” he said.
While shooters like Mateen have been able to buy their assault weapons legally after passing federal background checks, Serafini offered a recent example of the national background check system working properly at his store.
He said a man whom he knew to be mentally unstable came in seeking to buy a gun, and rather than get into a confrontation with the man, staff submitted his name to the FBI check system, which did, indeed, reject the application.
The man later emailed the store about whether the staff could get a nonfunctional gun, purchased out of state, working. That inquiry prompted Serafini to notify the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives about the man.
“The system worked as advertised in denying it,” Serafini said. “The system has faults that need to be fixed, but it’s not a bad system.”
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, firstname.lastname@example.org or @gazettesteve on Twitter.