Rick Hawkins, owner of Boots and Buckshot, said more than the shooting itself, the rhetoric spread by legislators has spurred the run on guns.
Comparing the feelings among customers to those in 1991, Hawkins said his sales have increased “600 percent” in the week following the Newtown, Conn., shooting that left 27 people — 20 children and seven adults — dead.
“I would say it’d be higher but demand is outstripping supply,” he said.
President Barack Obama is urging Congress to tighten federal gun laws, and across the country, state governments have brought gun control to the forefront of political debates. “People feel threatened,” Hawkins said. “Customers feel merchandise is not going to be available to them in the near future.”
Bartow County Probate Court employee Rhonda Clark said her department is hearing the same sentiment from those seeking weapons carry permits.
“Not all [are saying they are applying for a permit because of gun control debate] but we do here a lot of stuff like they’re afraid of gun laws changing, the president is going to tighten up on gun laws, things like that,” she said.
Clark said the probate court this week saw more applications than it averages per month. “We generally do about 125 a month and we’ve had about 150 this week.”
Those applying range from young people to senior citizens, with Clark saying a lot of those interested in receiving a permit have been couples coming in together.
While citizens are purchasing weapons and seeking licenses to carry them, the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office is answering requests from the public to learn firearms safety. Beginning in February, the department will host two four-hour firearms safety courses.
“The sheriff has been contacted by several individuals in the community requesting this class be offered to the general public in response to the incident in Connecticut,” said BCSO Capt. Mike Shinall.
The course, taught by BCSO instructors, will teach the public firearms carry laws, personal and handgun safety, and marksmanship.
Shinall said those skills are vital to anyone carrying a weapon.
“[This training is] very important as the students will learn when and where they can carry their handgun, whether in their vehicle, on their person or in another state,” Shinall said. “They will learn the proper way to carry the weapon and safely store the weapon along with the seven fundamentals of marksmanship. The ladies will learn how to carry the weapon in their purse and actually shoot through their purse.”
Major retailer Walmart could not provide numbers for gun sales, citing corporate policy.
“Unfortunately, because we do not break out sales by specific items or categories, I wouldn’t be able to provide any information on sales or sales trends for firearms,” said Kory Lundberg, director of National Media Relations and Corporate Communications for Walmart.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report Thursday showing that the school shooting in Connecticut has led to more discussion about gun policy on social media than previous rampages. The report says users advocating for gun control were more numerous than those defending current gun laws.
The NRA, the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby, remained largely silent after the shooting until its top lobbyist on Friday called for armed guards at every school.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said Wayne LaPierre, who refused to take questions after making extended remarks.
Debate also has emerged about arming teachers or posting armed officers in schools. In Harrold, Texas, that’s just what they did.
In the tiny Texas town, children and their parents don’t give much thought to safety at the community’s lone school — mostly because some of the teachers are carrying concealed weapons.
In remote Harrold, the nearest sheriff’s office is 30 minutes away, and people tend to know — and trust — one another. So the school board voted to let teachers bring guns to school.
“We don’t have money for a security guard, but this is a better solution,” Superintendent David Thweatt said. “A shooter could take out a guard or officer with a visible, holstered weapon, but our teachers have master’s degrees, are older and have had extensive training. And their guns are hidden. We can protect our children.”
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have jointly rejected the ideas of increasing gun presence on campus. The proposals generally take two forms: eliminating the exceptions so gun owners can choose to carry on campus or specifically requiring that school personnel be trained and armed.
“We don’t believe the solution is to put more guns in the building, but keep them from getting in,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. But he argued that prevention goes beyond gun control. He said NEA wants more money to finance school counselors and psychologists, better public mental health access generally and state laws that crack down on bullying.
“It’s time to emphasize how all of those services and that comprehensive approach play a role in keeping kids safe,” he said.
Some legislative proposals reflect renewed conviction in the long-held beliefs of lawmakers. Legislators, mostly Democrats, in California and New York plan a push to tighten what are already some of the most stringent state gun-control laws. Many Democrats in presidential swing states are pushing for tighter restrictions, while others take a wait-and-see approach. Meanwhile, rank-and-file Republicans in Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida have called for making it easier for teachers and other adults to have weapons in schools.
Other proposals predate the Newtown massacre. Lawmakers in the GOP-led states of Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and Pennsylvania had been considering before the shootings proposals to loosen restrictions on employees having guns in their vehicles on work property.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, offered Thursday what appears to be a growing theme among GOP leaders: that the shooting should prompt discussions about mental health treatment, not anti-gun laws.
“Anybody can get a gun, and when bad people get guns, they’re going to do what they want to do. No amount of gun control can stop someone from getting a gun when they want to get it,” she said. “What we can do is control mental health in a way we treat people who don’t know how to treat themselves.”
A Pew Research Center survey taken Dec. 17-19, after the shooting, registered an increase in the percentage of Americans who prioritize gun control (49 percent) over gun owner rights (42 percent).
Those figures were statistically even in July. But 58 percent opted for control over individual rights in 2008, before Obama took office. The December telephone survey included 1,219 adults in all 50 states. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Anyone interested in signing up for the BCSO firearms safety course should contact Shinall at 770-382-5050, extension 6069, or email email@example.com. Shinall said if demand dictated, more courses may be added in the future.
Citizens interested in applying for a weapons carry permit can apply at Bartow County Probate Court, 135 W. Cherokee Ave., Suite 243A, Cartersville. Applicants must be 21, a Bartow County resident and have a valid, government-issued ID with a valid Bartow County address. The fee is $75 and permits will be mailed in about 10 days, although Clark said due to demand the backlog has created about a two-week wait. For more information, call the court at 770-387-5075.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.