Gun sales in Seattle area soar after Obama win
By Steve Miletich
Seattle Times staff reporter
The odds are greater these days that you or someone around you is packing a gun.
Applications for concealed-weapons licenses have jumped dramatically in the Seattle area as pro-gun groups have loudly warned that the Obama administration wants to restrict gun rights.
Sales of guns and ammunition also are surging at levels one Bellevue gun-shop owner calls "crazy."
"It is a very high mistrust factor," said Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Bellevue-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, noting the upswing in concealed-weapon applications and firearms sales has "continued pretty much unabated" since October.
That is when people realized Barack Obama was going to win the presidential election and began paying closer attention to his record of supporting gun controls, Gottlieb said.
The mistrust stems, in part, from Obama's pledge to reinstate the ban on assault-style weapons and require stricter regulation of firearm sales at gun shows. But the Obama administration has not pushed any major gun-control initiatives and on Thursday, the president backed away from seeking the ban. He also made it clear during the campaign that he supports individual gun ownership.
But it is questionable whether anything Obama says will satisfy the skeptics.
The National Rifle Association has led the drumbeat, repeatedly warning its members that Obama poses a major threat to gun rights.
In Yakima, a sign on the counter of one pawnshop and gun store reads, "GET YOUR GUN'S [sic] NOW BEFORE OBAMA DOES," according to a recent story in the Yakima Herald-Republic.
In King and Snohomish counties, applications for licenses to carry a concealed weapon started to rise around the time of the presidential election. Applicants must go through background checks, with most approved, police officials said.
The trend began in October, when 86 applications were submitted to Seattle police, a spike from the usual number of monthly applications. Before then, roughly 40 to 60 applications were submitted each month between January and September.
In November and December, Seattle police received 183 applications, compared with 67 during the same two months in 2007 — a 173 percent increase.
The number dipped to 58 in January but shot up again, with 100 in February and 114 in March.
The King County Sheriff's Office has seen similar increases. In November, the Sheriff's Office granted 590 licenses; in December 567; and in January 557. In 2007, the totals for those three months, respectively, were far lower, at 275, 312 and 369.
In Snohomish County, the Sheriff's Office processed 3,321 applications from October through March. That is a 30 percent increase over the same period in 2008, when the total was 2,545.
Statewide, the number of concealed-weapon licenses granted remained steady in 2007 and 2008, with about 71,000 each year.
But the number has already reached more than 27,000 through mid-April, according to the state Department of Licensing. Last month, for example, 9,642 licenses were granted, compared with 6,825 in March 2008.
It isn't known how many of those people were motivated by concerns about Obama's gun views. But Rebecca Hover, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office, said, "Some people will mention that when they apply" for a license.
Ban on weapon feared
Gun and ammunition buyers are specifically citing fears that Obama will move to reinstate the assault-weapon ban, first enacted under former President Clinton, or sharply boost the excise tax on ammunition, said Wade Gaughran, owner of Wade's Eastside Guns & Indoor Range in Bellevue, one of the area's largest gun stores.
A ban would cover semiautomatic assault-style weapons, along with large-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds and some other features that make rapid firing easier.
Since the election, Wade's business has doubled the sale of guns and ammunition, particularly expensive assault-style weapons such as AR-15 and AK-46 semi-automatic rifles, Gaughran said.
"It's been crazy," he added.
Ammunition, in particular, has flown off shelves. "Guys who would normally buy a box are buying a case," Gaughran said.
Handgun sales in Washington state jumped from 76,400 in 2007 to 98,010 in 2008, according to the state Department of Licensing, and have topped 37,000 through the middle of April.
Stock in gunmaker Smith & Wesson has soared since Oct. 30.
Nationally, FBI background checks since November for firearms sales have jumped more than 30 percent compared to last year. October through November 2008 saw the largest number of quarterly background checks since they were launched in 1998 as part of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed earlier, data shows.
The rise in gun sales and concealed-weapons applications also has been tied to the battered economy. Even though crime rates remain low, some people predict an increase in crime or, as some have promoted on talk radio, an economic meltdown with resulting chaos.
Gottlieb, of the Bellevue pro-gun organization, called the meltdown talk "irresponsible rhetoric from both sides." But crime worries are more legitimate, he said, because "when the economy goes south, crime always goes north."
Still, Gottlieb said, the real issue is the Obama factor, including recent statements from Attorney General Eric Holder about reinstating the assault-weapon ban, and comments by him and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about U.S. guns fueling drug violence in Mexico.
"When you add those things together, one thing after another keeps compounding and the sales go up," Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said backlash from a newly disclosed Department of Homeland Security report is likely to further spur sales. The report warns that the economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president might spark right-wing radicalization and recruitment.
So far, however, Obama has shown little passion for promoting gun-control measures, following his written campaign promise to "protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport, and use guns."
In Mexico City on Thursday, Obama signaled he will not seek renewal of the assault-weapon ban while saying he would step up enforcement of laws banning the transfer of such guns across the border, The Associated Press reported.
Obama realized such a move would be unpopular in politically key U.S. states and among Republicans and some conservative Democrats, according to AP. Newsweek magazine reported in its current edition that the administration was backing away from gun measures to concentrate on economic and health-care issues.
"Have we seen any strong movement at the federal level? No," said Kristen Comer, executive director of Seattle-based Washington CeaseFire, which works to prevent gun violence.
Obama is limited in what he can do because of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling last year that individual Americans have a right to own guns, Comer said.
What is fueling the worry is "a lot of propaganda" and fears that make it "easy to get people to act," she said.
Comer thinks the sudden influx in gun ownership could lead to more suicides. Access to guns plays a major role in suicides, even more than mental illness, she said.
Hover, the Snohomish County sheriff's spokeswoman, expressed concern about accidental shootings by untrained buyers, pointing to the case of a 6-year-old Marysville girl who was fatally shot by her father in their home last year.
The father had been drinking double shots of vodka while he cleaned his guns, according to court documents.
Gottlieb dismissed the concern, calling such incidents random while saying many gun owners undergo training or have it from military experience.
Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this story, which also includes information from Bloomberg News and Times archives.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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