Gun sales spike along North Coast after San Bernardino shooting

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Fear of tighter gun ownership laws in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in San Bernardino has prompted a flurry of firearms sales across the North Coast.

Pistols, rifles and shotguns are being snapped up at gun shops from Petaluma to Ukiah as residents prepare for what they believe are inevitable new gun restrictions that will hamper their ability to bear arms.

“It’s been insane,” said Gabe Vaughn, owner of Sportsmans Arms on Bodega Avenue in Petaluma, who stood next to a row of a dozen rifles sold to customers in one morning. “Yesterday was the single busiest day I have had in the 10 years since I opened.”

Vaughn said customers are buying AR-15 military-style rifles and semi-automatic pistols, similar to guns used in to kill 14 people Dec. 2 at the Inland Regional Center Christmas party.

Many tell him they want to get them while they still can, Vaughn said.

President Barack Obama called Sunday for stronger gun control legislation in a nationally televised speech that addressed the San Bernardino shootings and terrorism.

Vaughn said many customers share an overwhelming sense the government will use the mass killing and others like it to limit their access to firearms in the near future, Vaughn said.

“The second you tell someone they can’t have something they are going to seek it out,” said Vaughn.

Others said they want guns for protection. Terrorism abroad and at home suggest increased danger. He saw a similar surge after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012.

“This time is different, though,” he said. “The world is becoming a scary place and I think people are starting to see that more and more.”

Eighty miles north in Ukiah, Norman Schafer, owner of New Wave gun shop on North State Street, was experiencing the same high level of sales.

His store has been packed and he’s getting calls from first-time gun owners interested in buying guns.

Many say they want to protect themselves but others worry Obama wants to limit access to firearms, he said.

“Obama is the best gun salesman in the United States,” Schafer said. “People are coming out of the woodwork.”

Gun trainers in the area report they are seeing more people coming to them to learn to shoot. Ray Higbee, a retired CHP officer living in Redwood Valley who teaches a concealed carry course, said he has seen three to four times as many students since the recent mass shooting. Some of the people, a third of whom are women, say they don’t want to be victims.

“They are smart enough to know that if they learn to use a gun they don’t have to stand there like cold pigeons,” Higbee said. “They can protect themselves.”

Gun sales have spiked across the nation as debate continues about how to curb gun violence. A Gallup poll last month found 11 percent of Americans want less-strict laws, 33 percent want the laws to remains the same and 55 percent want stricter laws.

One indicator of gun interest is firearm background checks, which surged nationwide to more than 2.2 million in November, up from a previous high this year of 2 million in March, according to FBI statistics.

In California, gun sales shot up after the San Bernardino attacks. Nearly 31,000 guns were sold in the six days after the shooting compared to about 21,000 over the same period last year, information from the state Department of Justice showed.

At Sportsmans Arms on Wednesday, customers pored over glass cases filled with pistols and shouldered rifles with hunting scopes in a back room. One woman who wouldn’t give her name asked for information about concealed weapons.

“I think I might want to carry one at this point,” she told Vaughn.

Another man who identified himself only as a retired police officer was looking at gun accessories. He wasn’t sure what was behind the spike in sales.

“I don’t know if it’s a knee-jerk reaction or what,” the man said. “You definitely have a right to arm yourself.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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