Fear that stricter gun laws may be looming in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting has triggered a sustained spike in sales at North Coast gun shops.
Concern that President Barack Obama might crack down on the sale of certain assault rifles has emptied store shelves as customers snap up firearms and accessories they think might soon be unavailable to them.
That sentiment led James Lunsford of Sebastopol to a Cotati gun shop Thursday, where he filled out paperwork to purchase a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, similar to one of the weapons carried by the man who killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14.
"I'm worried the government is going to restrict us from purchasing firearms," said Lunsford, 22, a hospital technician. "People have a right to own tools that are there to protect you."
Store owner Dave Baker said he was experiencing the biggest rush since Obama became president four years ago.
People are buying all kinds of firearms and he's sold out of the sought-after AR-15 assault-type weapon. It was one of three guns carried by Newtown, Conn. shooter Adam Lanza and was mentioned in the president's recent speech as the possible subject of a ban.
Baker, the owner of B2 Enterprises on Redwood Drive, said he sold his last military-style rifle about a week-and-a-half ago.
"All you have to do is tell people that they can't have it and they'll want it," he said as a steady stream of customers filed into his shop. "They are nervous about having their rights taken away from them."
At Schmidt & Titoni Firearms in Santa Rosa, gun dealers reported a similar surge.
Co-owner Karen Titoni said weekly sales have risen four or five times above their historic peak — into the tens of thousands of dollars.
Semi-automatic pistols are flying out of the store and she sold her last three AR-15s within days of the shooting. The phone has been ringing steadily from customers seeking semi-automatic rifles. Many other models are on back order as people hoard firearms nationwide in anticipation of restrictions, she said.
"Every day is insanity here," Titoni said. "It's good insanity but it's like, are you kidding?"
Statewide, gun sales have climbed steadily since 2008, according to state Dept. of Justice statistics. About 600,000 pistols and long guns — rifles and shotguns — were sold in 2011. That was up from 370,000 five years ago.
The number of guns sold in Sonoma County wasn't immediately available but the Justice Department website said there were more than 2,200 assault weapons registered in the county as of 2006. Mendocino County had nearly 500 and Lake County had about 200.
Ukiah gun seller Jeremiah Cassell said Mendocino County has long held the distinction of having a higher percentage of concealed-carry permits. He said about 1,500 people were licensed to carry guns in 2008 compared to about 300 in Sonoma County.
The Connecticut shooting has fired up sales of more guns and bullets, he said.
"There's been a definite increase," he said.
Meanwhile, gun shoppers in Cotati said people have a right to protect themselves.
"I'd like to be in a position where if someone comes at me, I can defend myself," said Lunsford, who planned to pick up his gun after the legally mandated 10-day waiting period.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here