OWATONNA — Gun dealers in Owatonna and across the state have seen an increase in business following the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Since the shooting that killed 26, including 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old, gun sales across the country have increased, as have requests for permits.
In Owatonna, Mikel Akers, owner of Mikel’s Gunsmithing & Sales — a federally licensed firearm dealer who also teaches a class for permits to carry a concealed weapon — said since the shooting, it has taken him longer to perform the background checks with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on buyers seeking to purchase a firearm from him.
“I’ve had to call in for a couple of them since (the shooting), and there are wait times,” Akers said. “I’ve never been put on hold by the FBI before, and I got put on hold forever.”
Employees at both Cabela’s and Mills Fleet Farm in Owatonna referred all questions about gun sales to their corporate offices. Numerous phone calls made by the People’s Press to those corporate offices seeking comment for this story were not returned.
Akers said he hasn’t necessarily seen an increase in sales as compared to other years at this time, but he has had people ask him if different guns are available. On Dec. 21, a week after the shooting, he said he had done three background checks since the shooting.
“That’s not really any more or less than normal. It’s just a matter of when I call in,” Akers said. “An FBI background check is usually just a five-minute process and I’ve been on hold for 20 and 30 minutes waiting. Sometimes I’ll call and it will be, ‘All circuits are busy,’ and they’ll make me call back. That has never happened before.”
Akers isn’t alone in seeing an increased curiosity among his customers about guns. The New Ulm Journal reports that R&R Bait and Tackle in New Ulm sees an increase in sales whenever people are fearful the federal government will pass stricter laws on gun control.
“When the federal government changed some gun laws a few years ago, you couldn’t get a hold of guns,” Francis Rieger of R&R Bait and Tackle told the Journal. “There was another run on guns before (President) Obama got in office. People were afraid they’d lose their right to own pistols or rifles. They want to get grand-fathered in before gun laws change.”
Akers said since the shooting, he has had four people contact him to ask about taking his class on the permit to carry, but he said he wasn’t sure if it was due to the Newtown shooting or not.
“I don’t know if it’s a spike because of what’s happening and they think it may get taken away at some point, or if it’s just the time of year and people are thinking about it, but I have had about four people within the last week show some serious interest in the carry course that I teach,” Akers said.
Akers said the number of firearms he sells typically increases at this time of year, which is mainly due to the fact that people give guns as gifts.
The Duluth News Tribune Reports that Duluth-area firearm dealers are seeing a high demand for Armalite, or “ARs.”
“Every time Obama opens his mouth, I sell more of them,” said Scott Van Valkenburg, owner of Fisherman’s Corner in Pike Lake, Minn., in a News Tribune article “It’s getting hard to find them, but we still have a few on the shelf. … I know a few distributors who can still get them for me, at least for now. The more they talk about banning them, the more they sell and the harder they get to find.”
The Newtown shooting has led to some politicians to call for an immediate examination of the nation’s gun control policy, including a possible ban on assault weapons. Akers said lawmakers need to outline specific criteria about what makes a gun an assault weapon.
“What they’re basing it on is appearance. The main weapon they’re talking about right now (a .223-caliber Bushmaster AR rifle), it’s the appearance because it looks like an M-16,” Akers said. “It actually carries a lot less potent round than a standard hunting rifle. It looks real mean and nasty, and that’s why it’s getting targeted. The exact same bullet can be shot out of a standard hunting rifle...that nobody is picking on whatsoever.
“If they came up with some clear cut guidelines as for what they want to see done...then I honestly wouldn’t have to big of a problem as long as they had some good rationale behind it.”
Akers said whenever a tragedy like the Sandy Hook shooting, people react very strongly. Aker said as a licensed dealer, he and others dealers want to see people that are safe with guns.
“Most people that are actually doing this as a job and not as a hobby, we want to make sure that people are safe with them. That’s why we do the background checks and go through the process,” Akers said.
Reach reporter Al Strain at 444-2376 or follow him on Twitter.com@OPPalstrain