January 5, 2013 8:48:14 PM
Sarah Fowler - firstname.lastname@example.org
As the debate over gun rights rages around the nation in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, gun enthusiasts are snatching guns off the shelves as quickly as dealers can stock them.
In December, the FBI ran 2.8 million background checks nationwide for those wanting to purchase a gun. That number is up nearly 50 percent from the 1.9 million checks run in the previous December.
In the state of Mississippi, a similar surge was reported.
In December, the number of background checks (42,176) increased by 55.1 percent over October's numbers (18,935) and by 23.4 percent over the number of background checks performed in November (32,272)
The number of background checks in December 2012 was 27 percent higher than the previous December (30,813)
Gary Dedeaux, of Gary's Pawn and Gun in Columbus, said the rise in background checks is typical around the holidays. However, given the recent debates in Washington over assault rifles, Dedeaux said buyers have been coming in his store in droves looking to purchase a gun they fear may not be available in the coming months.
"There's no question," Dedeaux said. "They think they're going to take them away from us. They want to have one."
Dedeaux said his sales for December 2012 were up 40 percent from the same time the previous year.
He attributed the rise in November and December background checks to the reelection of Barack Obama and the recent shooting in Newtown, which claimed the lives of 26 people, not including the gunman.
After the shooting, lawmakers rushed to offer solutions to ensure that the tragedy at Newtown would not happen again. They quickly focused on banning assault rifles.
Although a USA Today/Gallup poll taken shortly after the Newtown massacre shows 58 percent of respondents saying they now favor stricter gun laws, up from 43 percent in October 201l, demand for guns has soared, presumably among those who are already gun owners.
Immediately after the Newtown shooting, some retailers, including Dick's Sporting Goods, temporarily stopped selling assault rifles online.
While Dedeaux said he has had a significant increase in gun sales, particularly assault rifles, Heath Moore, an administrator for the Facebook group North Mississippi Gun Trader, said he hasn't seen an increase in assault rifles from members of his group.
With 10,000 members and counting, North Mississippi Gun Trader is for gun enthusiasts looking to buy, sell or trade by posting photos of their guns on the page.
"There has been no increase in interest in (assault rifles)," he said.
However, a quick search of the page showed a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 listed for sale for $1,400, more than twice the usual retail price.
William Walker, who asked that his real name not be used, is a customer of Gary's Pawn and Gun.
Walker bought the Smith and Wesson M&P 15, the same type of weapon listed on the Facebook page, for $700.
He said he bought it after the lawmakers began talking of making assault rifles illegal.
"I was afraid they would be unavailable in the near future because of the Newtown shooting," he said.
Dedeaux said that when it comes to assault rifles, he feels most lawmakers are unfamiliar with the specifics.
"If you ask any politician what an assault rifle is they can't tell you," he said.
An assault rifle is an semiautomatic rifle that is able to accept two or more of the following: Folding or telescope stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash suppressor or grenade launcher.
A semiautomatic pistol with detachable magazines can also be described as an assault rifle if it is able to accept two or more of the following: a magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip, threaded barrel to attach a barrel extender, hand grip or flash suppressor, a barrel shroud that can be used as a hand held and an unloaded weight of 50 ounces or more.
A semiautomatic shotgun can be classified as an assault rifle if it is able to accept two or more of the following: Folding or telescope stock, pistol grip, fixed capacity of more than five rounds and a detachable magazine.
Dedeaux said he saw a similar increase in sales when Obama was elected in 2008 and in 1994 when President Bill Clinton passed legislation known as the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The bill included the federal assault weapons ban which prohibited use of certain assault rifles. The ban expired after 10 years.
Walker said he views owning an assault rifle as his right.
"My belief is, if I want a rifle with 30 rounds, it's my right to have it," he said. "The Constitution doesn't say you have a right to bear arms unless it has a 30-round clip."
Walker, who is a high school teacher, has a concealed-carry permit as well as an extended concealed-carry permit. He said while he has no intention of using an assault rifle against an intruder in his home, having the gun gives him a sense of security.
"With the caliber being what it is, I would shy away from using it for home defense, but in the same sense, it makes me feel better just knowing it's there," he said. "Do I feel better knowing I have it? Yeah, I do."
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.