Bay State firearm dealers and advocates say gun sales are moving at a fast clip. Whatever the reason, guns clearly are flying off the shelf nationwide. State figures suggest an uptick in Massachusetts residents obtaining licenses to own and carry firearms, too.
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Bay State firearm dealers and advocates say gun sales are moving at a fast clip.
Several shop owners recently described an influx of customers who fear President Obama will step up gun regulations if elected to a second term, while other buyers worry about home break-ins and robberies during an economic slump.
“People are just nervous,” said Richard Callaghan, owner of Callaghan Firearms in Marlborough. “They don’t know what the future holds.”
Others in the firearms world see a link between increased sales and what they believe is growing public acceptance of gun sports and ownership. Some shops credited television programs such as the History Channel’s Top Shot for helping to popularize shooting.
“I think in most cases now, it’s that the stigma of owning a gun has changed,” said Roger Choquette, who owns Flint Armaments in Fall River with his wife. “They’re seeing that guns aren’t necessarily evil.”
Whatever the reason, guns clearly are flying off shelves nationwide. State figures suggest an uptick in Massachusetts residents obtaining licenses to own and carry firearms, too.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it carried out 16.5 million criminal background checks on potential gun buyers last year, 15 percent more than in 2010.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms industry trade association, said February was the 21st month in a row that background checks were higher nationwide compared to the same period a year earlier.
“Right now, actually, the supply is running dry,” said Michael Sheppard, owner of North Shore Firearms in Middleton. “It’s hard to get certain things because manufacturers can’t keep up with demand.”
In Massachusetts, FBI background checks fluctuated over the last decade, peaking at 165,446 in 2007. Checks dipped in later years, but picked up in 2011, totaling 153,487, nearly one-third more than in 2010.
State statistics show police departments, which hold authority over issuing gun permits in Massachusetts, have approved more of the most common type of firearm license available over the last three years.
Police issued more than 20,400 new Class A licenses to carry a handgun, rifle or shotgun in 2009, not including renewals of existing licenses, according to statistics from the state Firearms Record Bureau.
Departments in the Bay State issued more than 21,100 new Class A licenses in 2010 and upward of 22,300 in 2011, records show.
Altogether, state residents held a total of 246,775 Class A licenses as of Feb. 1 – an 8.4 percent increase from April 2010, when licenses totaled 227,612..
Class A licenses are the only type of gun permit that allows people to carry concealed and loaded weapons, but police have discretion to impose restrictions. Two other types of permits are available, plus a restricted firearms ID card solely used for carrying mace or pepper spray.
Police departments differ on whether they have been busier than usual handling gun permits, or whether the recent uptick in Class A licenses statewide mirrors any significant change.
Police chiefs in Middleton, Franklin and Medway, for example, said they noticed no spikes. The Middleton chief, James DiGianvittorio, heads the Essex County Chiefs of Police Association and said he also has heard little from his colleagues on the subject.
In Plymouth, Police Capt. Bruce McNamee said he has not observed an increase in new applications, but he has been a bit surprised by the overall volume since he started handling gun permits about three years ago.
His department issued 305 new Class A licenses in 2009, 248 in 2010 and 228 last year, not including renewals or other types of firearms permits.
“I don’t think the gun industry is wanting for business right now,” McNamee said.
In Fall River, Detective Mark Bouchard said renewals typically spike in years when licenses expire and level off other years, making it difficult to track whether gun permits are up overall over time.
Anecdotally, Bouchard said new applications seem to have picked up over the last nine months or so.
“It would seem to me that I have more new applicants than renewals,” Bouchard said. “I don’t know the reasoning for that.”
State figures show while Fall River police issued 74 new Class A licenses in 2010, they issued 175 licenses in 2011.
Wrentham Police Lt. Michael Robillard said he seems busier with gun permits lately. His department issued 60 Class A licenses last year, up from 46 in 2010, state records show.
“I get a general sense that people have an eye on the politics of it and feel that there’s some clampdown coming toward their ability to get a license, as well as the state of the economy,” Robillard said.
While some Second Amendment advocates feel justified in their concerns about potential new limits on firearms rights, some supporters of gun control think the gun lobby is fanning worries to drive up sales.
The National Rifle Association is driving some of these fears, said John Rosenthal, founder and chairman of Newton-based group Stop Handgun Violence.
“It’s the NRA’s big priority to tell everyone you can’t trust the government, and you need (a) concealed carry (license) because you can’t trust your neighbor either,” he said.
Rosenthal, who said he owns a shotgun and shoots skeet, was unconvinced the uptick in Class A licenses in Massachusetts is significant compared to a dramatic decrease seen after the state enacted its Gun Control Act of 1998, he said.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League in Northborough, also said gun permits dropped off dramatically after the Gun Control Act, which either changed or set new expiration dates and requirements in order to get permits.
Wallace said gun permits began picking up again after Hurricane Katrina, which he believes changed many people’s views on firearms.
“It was a lot of women that really realized, I might actually have to protect my children from guys who are out looting because the police aren’t available,” Wallace said.
Rosenthal said he would be interested to see how many people getting new licenses are returning military veterans.
Jesse Cohen, a Framingham attorney whose practice focuses on firearm law, said he has seen an increase in requests for help filing gun permit applications.
“There’s a lot of new folks to the gun community, people who are just entering the gun world for the first time,” including young professionals, he said.
Keith Langer, a Wrentham attorney who also works in gun law, echoed Cohen’s view. He said he has seen more women and younger shooters interested in firearms.
“I see more of them at the ranges,” Langer said recently. “I assisted at an introduction to action pistol shooting this weekend and they had 21 people show up for it,” a significant uptick from last year.
(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-4424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)