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February 20, 2013
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Boom times: Nevada County gun shops see brisk business

The legislative push for more gun restrictions has resulted in an increase of gun and ammunition sales, gun range usage and applications for concealed weapons permits.

Jerod Johnson, who owns The Range, a Grass Valley-based gun shop and shooting range, said demand for his products is the highest it has ever been in the 18-year existence of the shop.

“Demand is at an all-time high,” Johnson said. “We have done as much business in the first six weeks of the year as we normally do in an average year.”

Johnson said he has had trouble keeping ammunition in stock, as patrons buy bullets off the shelves as soon as deliveries are made.

On Feb. 8, one day after State Senator Leland Yee, who represents San Francisco and San Mateo County, introduced a series of gun-related bills, residents of western Nevada County began lining up outside of The Range at 10 a.m., and the line stretched out the door to Grass Valley Avenue, Johnson said.

Sheriff Keith Royal said applications for concealed weapons permits have doubled from 2011 and 2012 and spiked sharply since mid-December, when federal and state officials announced pursuit of gun control legislation in the wake of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

In 2011, 420 concealed weapons permits were issued to Nevada County residents, Royal said. In 2012, the number jumped to 660.

When asked whether he thinks the recent spike in permits is attributable to aggressive legislations at both state and federal levels, Royal said, “Yes, I do.

“If you take away guns from law-abiding citizens, all the guns will be in the hands of criminals,” Royal said. “That’s the fear.”

Johnson, who formerly served as a captain with the Grass Valley Police Department, agreed.

“If it’s announced that gas prices will go up tomorrow, everybody is going to head out and get some gas,” Johnson said.

The trend is not unique to Nevada County.

The New York Times reported in January that December witnessed a record for criminal background checks performed before many gun purchases.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group, reported a 58 percent increase over the same period in 2011.

“If I had 1,000 AR-15s, I could sell them in a week,” Jack Smith, an independent gun dealer in Des Moines, Iowa, told the Times.

An AR-15 is a popular semiautomatic rifle that has drawn attention after being used by Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six adults in December’s Newtown, Conn., shooting, and James Eagan Holmes in the mass shooting that resulted in 12 fatalities inside an Aurora, Colo., movie theater about five months earlier.

Johnson said The Range does not sell semi-automatic assault rifles and said the media’s fixation with the weapon is off base.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction to an event,” he said. “Most of the people buying weapons are first-time buyers. They want a firearm for home protection or personal protection. A lot of them are Baby Boomers and couples.”

Royal, who is also president of the California State Sheriff’s Association, said many counties throughout the state are reporting similar trends.

Applications to carry concealed weapons have spiked just about everywhere in Northern California in recent months, including in Yuba-Sutter, the Marysville Appeal-Democrat reported earlier this month.

“There’s been a dramatic increase in applications in the last few years,” Yuba County Sheriff Steve Durfor told the Appeal-Democrat. “I think it’s reflective of uncertainty in the world and more people feeling vulnerable with increased talk of gun control restrictions.”

Sutter County Sheriff J. Paul Parker has seen the same trend.

“Five years ago, we had 650 permits. Now we’re at 1,174,” Parker noted.

Legislation

While much has been made about the national legislation, including an assault-rifle ban, pushed by President Barack Obama, Senator Dianne Feinstein and others, Royal said most of the restrictions are already in place in California.

“What’s of greater concern is legislation at the state level,” Royal said.

Lee, along with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has announced a series of bills aimed to prevent gun violence, along with numerous other Democrats, including state senators Darrell Steinberg, Kevin de Leon, Marty Block, Mark Leno and Hannah-Beth Jackson.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently released a study that showed the states with the toughest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun-related deaths, while states with weak gun laws have the highest rates of gun deaths.

The six states with the lowest per capita gun death rates (Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut), all had some of the toughest gun laws in country, Yee stated in a February news release.

In contrast, the top 10 states with the highest per capita gun death rates (Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi) all had weak gun laws.

“It is a fact that strong gun laws work, and weak laws result in the loss of innocent lives,” Yee said in the release.

“Clearly, there is a direct correlation between common-sense gun laws and fewer gun-related homicides.”

Royal said many of these legislative items are unnecessary, and officials should instead concentrate on more rigorous enforcement of laws already on the books, including provisions intended to keep firearms out of the hands of those with a history of violent criminal activity and those diagnosed with mental illness.

One law, Assembly Bill 174, drew particular ire from Royal and other members of the state sheriff’s association.

The bill seeks to eliminate grandfather clauses of certain gun control restrictions.

“It would end exemptions and basically make criminals out of law-abiding gun owners,” Royal said, adding there are myriad other bills, including the taxation of ammunition.

The state of California maintains a system that identifies individuals deemed incompetent by the court system and those with serious criminal backgrounds, Royal said.

Periodic checks on these individuals and the use of the legal capacity to confiscate weapons should be utilized by more law enforcement agencies as a preventative measure.

In late January, Royal released a statement asserting U.S. citizens’ “right to acquire, own, possess, use, keep and bear firearms.

“Recent events have precipitated discussions as to what can be done to prevent gun violence,” Royal said in the statement.

“We all grieve over the suffering caused by gun violence and have a common interest to see that reforms work effectively in seeing that guns are not accessible to criminals and the mentally ill.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.

“We have done as much business in the first six weeks of the year as we normally do in an average year.”

— Jerod Johnson, owner of The Range


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The Union Updated Feb 20, 2013 08:37AM Published Feb 20, 2013 03:48PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.