Gun shops from Texas to Maine have all recently reported increased gun sales, and in some cases, sheriffs have urged residents to arm themselves.
PHOENIX — Some came for the vast selection of semi-automatic rifles, arrayed in glass display cases and atop folding tables. Others were shopping for handguns, including .38 Specials with pink handles, while still more showed up in Phoenix on Friday at the largest gun show in the West to buy ammunition for the guns they already owned.
“What if someone comes after me or my family?” said Janet Winkler, a grandmother who was shopping for bullets to fill the revolver inside her purse. “I used to never carry it to Target or to Wal-Mart, but the way things are, after all that’s happened, now I do.”
In the wake of mass shootings in Paris, Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Bernardino, Calif., Americans are stocking up on guns and ammunition, bringing weapons into their daily routines and requesting refresher courses at firing ranges.
Thinking of self-protection and the threat of new gun laws that could follow in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting that left 14 people dead Wednesday, much of the country is rushing toward guns rather than away: Gun shops from Texas to Maine have all recently reported increased gun sales, and in some cases, sheriffs have urged residents to arm themselves.
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It is part of a weapons boom that has been building for weeks. More Americans had their backgrounds checked while buying guns on Black Friday than on any other day on record, according to FBI statistics, which showed a 5 percent increase over Black Friday last year. In all, 185,345 people had their backgrounds checked on Black Friday alone. And Phoenix, where gun ownership is common, sales have been brisk.
Mike Reber said there has been a “noticeable and steady” increase in guns sales at his store — Arizona Arms in Chandler — and online, particularly by people who were buying firearms for the first time.
“It’s handguns and long guns,” Reber said, referring to the semi-automatic rifles he sells. “It’s a lot of women buying guns. It’s husbands bringing their wives to buy guns. They don’t want to be sitting ducks in a pond.”
Gun sales have generally been on an upward trajectory for years, with marked increases around the 2008 and 2012 elections — and after major mass shootings. Background checks for gun purchases rose 40 percent in December 2012, the month of the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack that left 20 children and six educators dead in Newtown, Conn.
Gun-control advocates are frustrated.
Arming oneself for protection is “a myth perpetuated by the gun lobby, whose interest is only in selling more guns,” said Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates to expand the system of background checks for gun buyers at the state and national levels.
“We need to close the loopholes that make it easy for dangerous people to get guns, and that means doing background checks on all gun sales and closing the terror gap,” Soto Lamb said, referring to a loophole that allows people on the government’s terrorist watchlist to buy guns and explosives from licensed dealers.
Efforts to close the loophole and expand background checks for certain gun purchases failed in the Senate on Thursday.
Some public officials are stoking the demand for weapons and citizen-driven protection.
On Friday, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county, released a video reiterating a call he had made earlier in the week for “all armed citizens to take action in the event of mass violence or terrorism until law enforcement can arrive.”
In New York state, Sheriff Paul Van Blarcum of Ulster County posted a message to the department’s Facebook page less than 24 hours after the San Bernardino shooting, urging licensed gun owners in his county to carry their weapons in public, citing recent mass shootings in the United States and Paris.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, echoed a similar sentiment, telling a crowd at an Iowa gun range Friday, “You stop bad guys by using our guns.”