Upper Valley Gun Stores Report Brisk Sales as Buyers Anticipate New Curbs
Harvey Davis, of Bethel, asks about hunting licenses at Locust Creek Outfitters in Bethel yesterday. “You can’t govern somebody’s mind,” Davis said of calls for stricter gun laws following the Connecticut elementary school rampage shooting that claimed 26 lives. “I can see them banning the clips. I agree with that.” (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
At Locust Creek Outfitters in Bethel, Clifton Rhoades discusses hunting and the Connecticut shootings.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Windsor — A potential ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines has driven Back 40 Guns and Ammo into gun sale overdrive, as customers buy up weapons and ammo they soon might not be able to acquire.
The most popular items, said Mark Lancaster, the store manager, are guns such as the AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle that has become a focal point for the burgeoning gun debate.
“My walls are vacant almost constantly,” Lancaster said. “I’m ordering as fast as I’m selling.”
Since Saturday, he said, he’s sold about 30 military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 and the AK-47. Usually he sells about five per week. Demand is so high that it’s becoming harder and harder to get the weapons from wholesalers, he said.
On Wednesday, President Obama called upon Congress to ban the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, five days after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.
Now, Obama said, these issues will become crucial to his presidency, and the revitalization of a debate that he shied away from during his first term has left some Upper Valley gun owners wary of what might come next.
Clifton Rhoades, of East Randolph, said that better firearm education could prevent what he sees as over-reaction following a tragedy, and having a level of respect for a weapon is important.
He recalled his first hunting memory, from when he was younger than 10, trailing his father in the woods with a BB gun.
“Don’t jiggle it,” he remembered his father saying. “It makes noise.”
That was in the early 1950s. Hunting runs deep, especially in the northeast part of the country, he said, and his hope is that they “keep it like it is.”
But, according to Wayne Barrows, who owns Barrows Point Trading Post in Quechee, there’s not much point in hoping.
“Something’s going to happen,” he said. “There are going to be restrictions on, at the very least, high-capacity magazines.”
At Barrows’ store, such magazines are flying off the shelves. Although he will special order the semi-automatic weapons fueling the national debates for his customers, he doesn’t normally stock them. Handgun sales have gone up recently, he said, but that could be due to the holiday season as much as the specter of weapons bans.
“People are trying to get what they pretty much know the government is going to put ... clamps on,” he said. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
However, Upper Valley gun owners are adamant that, as law-abiding citizens, they shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of mass bannings.
“I don’t want to endanger the public with the guns that I have,” said Curt Wyman, a Cornish resident who has a shooting range and said he keeps the guns he owns in three safes.
It’s a sensitive issue, though — officials from both Welch’s Gun Shop in Lebanon and Locust Creek Outfitters in Bethel declined to comment.
But Rhoades, standing in the Bethel shop, reflected about the schism between law-abiding gun owners and those in favor of strict gun control.
“Some people use them, I call it, foolishly,” said Rhoades, a logger. “And others kind of respect ...”
He paused, glancing around the store, its walls adorned with mounted bucks and displays of guns and gear.
“Yes,” he said, thinking. “Yep. I suppose that’s the way the world is.”
And now, the world is online, so the shootings in Newtown, Conn. have prompted a vigorous debate about gun control across the country, including on social media in the Upper Valley.
Earlier this week, Carissa Means, a member of the Lebanon School Board, posted to the Norwich Listserv with a comment that read, in part: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. Mental illness is to blame. We ignore erratic behavior and want to insist that everyone should just get to be an individual. Instead of helping people, we want them to feel ‘normal.’ You never hear of a massive shooting at a police station or, the place where you find the most guns, a gun store or range.”
Later in the post, Means, who has served as co-chairwoman of Lebanon Republicans, added, “I saw a posting somewhere that asked which sign would be more effective in deterring gun crime at a school, ‘this is a gun free zone’ or ‘teachers in this school are armed and prepared to use a weapon in an emergency.’ I don’t want armed teachers, but the point is clear. Gun laws don’t stop people’s horrific behavior. Anyone who can shoot a 5 year old is crazy enough to do anything.”
Asked later about the comments, Means also noted that two NFL football players have been killed in recent weeks, one after shooting himself after killing his girlfriend, the other as a passenger in an alleged drunk driving crash.
“In the first instance, there is a huge outcry for gun control. In the second, there is no outcry to ban alcohol or cars! It’s just ironic to me,” said Means.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center does back a federal ban on assault weapons.
“On behalf of the patients we serve, Dartmouth will be active in regional and national responsible gun control efforts. We will review each piece of legislation filed and be proactive in the process,” DHMC Vice President of Goverment Relations Frank McDougall said via email.
“We do support on behalf of those we serve immediate reinstatement of the assault weapons federal ban. We also recognize and fully support greater access in both New Hampshire and Vermont for those in need of mental services and treatment . This can only be accomplished by a significant long overdue public sector focus on dedicating the resources needed.”
Meanwhile, New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch yesterday urged residents to join Connecticut and other states in a moment of silence at 9:30 this morning to honor the 26 students and teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248. News staff writer John P. Gregg contributed to this report.