If the significant increase in federal background checks for gun sales last month was any indication of an increase in gun sales, then some local gun shop workers say they didn’t experience that trend.
But the workers said they are noticing an increase in foot traffic from existing gun owners who either want to know more about Alabama’s newest gun laws or about any potential changes to federal gun regulations that could come after the next presidential election.
The FBI reported background checks for gun sales spiked to nearly 1.53 million last month, which was up 11 percent from the same time last year. That number was also the largest number of background checks recorded in a June since the FBI began recording the data in 1999, according to the FBI.
Federal firearm background checks in Alabama were 45,952 last month. There were 41,709 in June 2014.
The FBI warns a one-to-one correlation can’t be made between firearm background checks and firearm gun sales, as different states have varying laws and purchase scenarios that could affect the number of guns actually sold. Alabama is considered an open carry state, but in some instances a background check (or a gun permit) is not required to own certain firearms.
Pawn City of Dothan sales associate Phillip Rood said many people entering the store lately have been interested in learning more about gun laws than about purchasing a new gun. Alabama legislators recently approved amendments to gun legislation that take effect in September. One of the amendments allows residents under 18 to carry firearms in certain instances and with the permission of their parents or legal guardians.
According to the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, the new legislation also repeals the state’s pistol registration requirement, narrows a prohibited facility’s authority to ban firearms outside the building, and creates avenues for people who were federally prohibited to carry firearms to seek restoration of their firearm rights.
Rood said many customers he has spoken with recently just want to be sure they’re carrying their guns legally.
“A lot of people have firearms already, some are just starting to carry them now,” Rood said.
“There never seems to be any apprehension about carrying their guns. They just want to know the laws to know if they’re carrying their gun correctly.”
Dothan Gun Club owner Dan Mitchell said gun sales go up and down based on how much citizens’ Second Amendment right to bear arms is threatened.
“When there was talk a while back about taking certain guns away and banning ammunition, sales went through the ceiling because people began to stockpile their weapons,” Mitchell said.
“Prices went through the roof. People bought $2,000 and $3,000 guns that are now worth only about $800 or $900. It will probably happen at election time, too.”
National tragedies also appear to impact gun sales, or at least cause an increase in federal background checks. The FBI reported background checks for gun sales were 953,613 in one week in December 2012, which was a month after the Sandy Hook massacre, where 20 Connecticut school children and 6 adults were shot and killed inside a school. FBI data showed the month was the highest number of background checks recorded in one week.
Daniel Nicholson, owner of Area 51 Products in Dothan, said although sales appear low this time of year, there are probably more people in the Wiregrass carrying their weapons than ever before.
“It’s not just a bunch of rednecks shooting in the woods anymore,” he said.
“You literally have every demographic, from the folks who have to pay on a layaway for six months to buy their gun to doctors and lawyers interested in thousand dollar guns. The demographic is much wider than it used to be.”
Nicholson said as far as sales, many people are likely waiting to see if the next president will seek to change existing gun laws.
“(Presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton has already said gun laws can be expected to change, so we’re all kind of holding on to see what happens with an election year coming,” he said.
Dj’s Classic Cuts owner Dee Jay said he has always carried a concealed weapon and has his gun permit.
“I’d never carry it openly because it’s intimidating and threatening and could make people uncomfortable,” Jay said. “You could probably say you feared for your life if you were in a heated argument where one person had their gun out.”
Resident Bobby Crews agreed. He said he tends to carry a concealed weapon during travel, but he limits the places where he takes it.
“I don’t take it to church,” he said. “I wouldn’t draw a lot of attention to it anywhere, though. It’s for me to feel more comfortable. Not to broadcast.”
Whether a person is new to gun ownership or has multiple weapons, Mitchell said it is critical for gun owners to know how to use their weapons.
“You don’t know how you’ll act under stress unless you’ve practiced in a stressful environment. It’s a skill that requires professional training,” he said. “You need to produce muscle memory and you need to continually use your weapon. A gun is not something you just buy and throw in your purse.”