Guns sales grow in hard times

GREENPORT—In the midst of this economic slump people in Columbia County—and across the country—are exercising their constitutional right to bear arms in growing numbers.

   The national trend is reflected locally in a barrage of pistol permit applications that the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office is scrambling to keep up with. It’s also seen by a gun shop owner, who has seen her gun sales shoot up recently.

   In the business of selling guns for 30 years, the owner of Shooters in Valatie, who would identify herself only as Patsy—“They call me Packin’ Patsy; everybody knows me”—told The Columbia Paper this week that in the last year her gun sales business has increased “dramatically.” She declined to share specific sales figures, but she did say that the skyrocketing demand for guns is not limited to one age group or sex.

   People in their 70s and 80s are coming in to buy guns and ammunition as well as 18- and 21-year-olds, she said, making sure to emphasize that people who buy guns from reputable dealers are honest, law-abiding citizens and subject to scrupulous background checks.

   People who intend to use firearms for criminal purposes buy them on the street, said Patsy.

   “Women are buying guns for personal protection,” she said. Senior citizens are worried about protecting themselves from “people coming into their homes to rob them.”

   Last week she said she sold a gun to a man who told her he had never owned a gun in his life. He wanted it for protection, she said.

   Patsy, who has owned and operated her shop on Main Street in the village for the past nine years, describes her business as “family-oriented,” saying a safety lock goes with every gun she sells. “I love the idea of a grandfather taking his grandchild out squirrel hunting or target shooting,” she said. But she worries that those traditions may be things of the past because ammunition is hard to come by with the current demand.

   Rather than the economy, she attributed the increase in the sale of firearms to the arrival of the new administration in Washington.

   In story in The Washington Post last October quoted Gary Kleck, a researcher at Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, who said that while “there are no scientific studies linking gun sales and economic conditions, people often buy firearms during periods of uncertainty.” People purchase weapons for personal safety, but also out of concern that government action will limit access to firearms, Mr. Kleck said.

   “People are stockpiling guns,” Patsy said, but another factor in the lack of guns on the market is that the government has “added more rules” and “stopped the import of firearms and ammunition” to this country.

   New York State has limitations on assault weapons, such as prohibitions on large-capacity magazines, so manufacturers find it quicker to fill backorders in states where it is easier to comply with the laws,. Patsy said. “We don’t need any more [gun] laws, we need the laws on the books to be enforced,” she said.

   Gun maker Sturm, Ruger and Company experienced a $48-million backlog in orders at the end of 2008 and a 42% increase in sales for that year, according to an ABC News Business Unit report in April.

   The same report cited Security and Exchange Commission filings that said Smith and Wesson’s handgun and tactical rifle sales climbed 25.9% between November 2008 and January of this year as compared to the same period the year before.

   The revived interest in handgun ownership has not escaped the notice of Columbia County Sheriff David W. Harrison, Jr., whose office serves as the distribution point and inbox for pistol license applications in the county.

   Anyone who wants a pistol permit in Columbia County must go to the Sheriff’s Office to get the application packet and pay a $10 fee. Once the application is completed, it must be returned to the Sheriff’s Office with the payment of $105.25 to cover fingerprint processing by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services and a background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

   In 2008, the county Sheriff’s Office saw a 32% increase in the number of applications handed out and a 31% jump in the number of permit applications returned for processing over the previous year.

   That was 520 applications dispensed and 206 returned in 2008. As of April 27 of this year, the sheriff has already given out 280 permit applications or more than half of the total given out last year and 109 of those applications have been returned and submitted for processing.

   Once fingerprints, photos, background checks and any other required documents, such as references, are compiled and received, the Sheriff’s Office sends the entire permit file to the County Surrogates Court, where a county judge makes the final decision on whether to issue the permit.

   Keeping up with the paperwork has proved a challenge, said the sheriff, because both a position for a full-time clerk and a part-time clerk assigned to handle pistol permit applications remain vacant due to the county’s hiring freeze. The workload has had to be shifted not only to several other people in the front office “who have done a great job,” said Sheriff Harrison, but also, First Sergeant John Rustici, Undersheriff James Sweet and the sheriff himself have chipped in to help.

   The sheriff recalls a similar spike in the demand for pistol permits back in 2001, following the September 11 attacks.

   This state has a more stringent process for handgun buyers than many other states, and the Brady Bill requires gun dealers to call an 800 number provided by the federal government to find out whether a potential buyer of any gun, not just a handgun, has a criminal history or has been convicted of a felony.

   “It has been my experience that usually someone who has gone through a background check and has a pistol license is not the one who commits a crime with a handgun,” said the sheriff.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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