Indicators of firearms sales up before San Bernardino massacre

Recent terror attacks around the world and mass shootings in the United States have led to a spike in the number of people looking to own firearms, a trend that’s likely to continue in the wake of Wednesday’s killings in Georgia and California, area gun experts say.

“We’ve had people who’d never dreamt they’d be in that position come in taking training on what kind of gun to get before they go out and buy a gun because that’s very important,” said Jeff Pedro, owner of SimTrainer Indoor Range and Firearms Training Center in Moraine.

Ohio is on track this year to surpass the number of concealed carry licenses issued in 2014. The spike comes as the FBI reported that Black Friday had the highest number of applications nationwide for background checks on people wanting to buy firearms.

On Nov. 27, more than 185,000 background checks — the most reliable barometer for gun sales — were sought, FBI records show. That’s the highest day for gun sales since Dec. 21, 2012, following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, when more than 25 were killed in Newtown, Conn.

Background checks — which do not represent the number of firearms sold — spiked last month in Ohio to nearly 82,000. Area counties have for years seen heightened interest in people obtaining permits to carry concealed weapons as well.

In the nine county Miami Valley region, there were 8,335 new applicants for CCWs in the first three quarters of 2015, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. That’s compared to 6,607 through September last year.

‘Living in the culture of fear’

Gun supporters contend the increase in firearms interest demonstrates a concern for self-defense. But an anti-gun violence group said it reflects people “living in the culture of fear.”

One area gun shop owner who is seeing a decrease in sales said numbers on Black Friday and the next day were “the best sales we’ve had in about a year and a half.”

But John Thyne, owner of Peabody Sports on Ohio 48 in Centerville, said Black Friday weekend figures didn’t approach those following the Sandy Hook shootings, sales the 11-year operator said were “in my time, unprecedented.”

Another area gun shop operator said Thursday the San Bernardino, Calif. shootings appeared to prompt a steady stream of phone inquiries while another gun retailer said that staff “was pretty slammed” with customers.

The increased interest typically follows violent acts that lead to mass fatalities, said Pedro, a former police officer.

“What’s happened in the past when things like this — tragic incidents where people feel vulnerable — (happen), they flock to gun stores,” he said. “And in our case they come in increasing numbers to seek training on how to use guns for personal safety and self-defense.”

But a surge in gun sales bring with them their own hazards, according to Jennifer Thorne, executive director of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence.

People buy guns for self-defense, she said, but guns in the home are far more likely to be used in a suicide, accident or homicide committed by someone they know than for self-defense.

“I think people are afraid. We are living in the culture of fear,” she said, but while mass shootings are horribly frequent, “that kind of gun violence is much more rare than we feel that it is.”

“You are more likely to be killed by someone that knows you than by someone committing one of these acts of terror, and we need to be careful when we consider our personal responses to something like this and not go overboard and do things that are going to put us more at risk.”

Increased interest in CCW permits

The regions is also seeing a jump in the interest for CCWs. In Butler County, the number of new permits issued through November was 1,820, up from 1,751 all of last year, said Ken Webster of that county sheriff’s office

“The numbers are pretty much holding steady on last year and this year, but the new ones have increased a lot over the past month,” he said. “The past couple of weeks, the number of phone calls, and information on how to obtain one has tripled, probably. The phone here has been going crazy.

“A lot of the comments are, ‘I think it’s just time; too many shootings going on,’ things of that nature,” Webster said.

If there is renewed interest in CCWs because of the Paris or San Bernardino killings, in which 14 people died and 21 injured, it would not be detected in records right away, said Butler County Sheriff Chief Deputy Tony Dwyer.

“It takes time for people to schedule a CCW class, go through the class, then schedule an appointment with us,” he said. “So there’s a little bit of a lag. If you have an incident in November, and all of a sudden everybody really wants to get their CCW, you’re not going to see it in December or January, it’ll probably take a little time.”

Heading into December, the number of new CCW permits and renewals were ahead of 2014 figures, said Warren County Sheriff Chief Deputy Barry Riley. New permits were up to 2,098 through November, compared to 1,410 all of last year; while renewals this year were 1,171, down from 1,707 all of last year.

The number of renewals in both Butler and Warren counties were down, as expected, because permits are good for five years, officials said.

CCW permits are expected to jump 20 percent in Greene County by the end of the year, said Sheriff Gene Fischer. He cannot say if the uptick is directly related to the Paris attacks, but Greene County residents are “just like any other county, (they) are worried about world events,” he said.

“We hear about ISIS attacks here and there,” Fischer said. “If this comes to our country, people are looking and saying, ‘what do I need to do to protect myself?’ And a lot of people are turning to gun permits and guns to protect themselves and their families.”

Demand low for body armor

One form of protection that is not seeing a similar spike in sales — at least over the counter — is body armor. While it’s legal to sell in Ohio, an informal survey of area retailers Thursday found it difficult to come by.

Spencer Stewart, the owner of Trenton Tactical LLC, sells it, but with discretion.

“We are very proactive,” said Stewart, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I can always deny service to anyone I don’t deem as really up to caliber, and then we also have them prove citizenship and age, and sign a waiver as to a multitude of things.”

One business called body armor “a special order item” while another said it sells only to law enforcement agencies. That is not unusual, said Miami Twp. police Capt. John Magill.

“A manufacturer or distributor for the most part will sell exclusively to law enforcement sources,” he said. “Once the armor enters the civilian market it can be turned over and sold to other people.”

In Ohio, any adult can purchase and use a bulletproof vest, unless that adult has been convicted of a felony, according to www.bulletsafe.com.

Restrictions to purchase are not as strict as firearms, according to the website. No identification or background check is required and no special record keeping is needed.

Staff Writers John Bedell, Mike Rutledge and Andy Sedlak contributed to this report.

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