Gunnison business booms amid gun-control talks
Backlog of background checks not swaying firearms enthusiasts
Originally published 2013-01-24
Tactical-style rifles are selling like hot cakes, semi-automatic pistols are flying off the shelves and retailers can’t keep ammo in stock.
Local firearms dealers report that sales have soared in recent weeks as both state and federal lawmakers consider taking aim at certain types of firearms and their features.
As the gun-control debate has escalated, it’s meant booming business for three retailers in the City of Gunnison.
“We’ve probably sold as many guns in the last five weeks as we did in the previous six months,” said Andy Cochran of Gene Taylor’s Sporting Goods.
First it was semi-automatic rifles — like the popular AR-15 and the .223 bullets that they shoot — that the store saw flying off the shelves. But more recently, high capacity semi-auto handguns and extended-magazine-type shotguns have been popular purchases, said Cochran.
Brad Tutor, owner of The Gun Room at Turquoise Junction on Main Street, described a similar situation at his store.
“Anything that somebody thinks might possibly be banned,” he said of the sales he’s experienced. “It’s made it very difficult for me to restock my sales. I spend all day talking to distributors, looking online. I don’t know how many things I have back-ordered now.”
A Denver Post poll recently showed that the majority of Colorado residents — who have long supported the rights of gun owners — now favor strengthening firearms laws through specific restrictions.
But a few folks interviewed for this story surmise that those results would be much different if conducted in Gunnison County.
“A lot of people think there’s a dividing line in this valley, but not when it comes to guns,” said Tutor, noting that he’s sold weapons to up-valley and Gunnison-area residents alike.
Views on firearms may be different in rural parts of the state, but one trend that appears common both locally and throughout Colorado is a spike in concealed handgun permits in recent years.
Between 2004 and 2011, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) saw an increase of 185 percent for permits processed statewide. In the last five years alone, Gunnison County has experienced a similar rise in new concealed carry permits — from 25 in 2008 to 76 in 2012.
Those interested must fill out an application, show proof of firearms training, pay fees and submit themselves to the CBI background check, before the local Sheriff’s Office can issue a concealed carry permit.
Do more guns in the hands of law-abiding locals make for a safer community?
For some, like Tutor, the answer is “yes.” He views possession of firearms as integral to upholding numerous freedoms, and is watching with a wary eye the gun-control debate that’s playing out in Colorado and throughout the nation.
“I think it will be a battle, but I just hope that people will understand why we have firearms and what they’re about,” he said.
Background check backlog tops 10,000
The rush to obtain weapons before new gun-control legislation comes down the pike is perhaps most pronounced in the backlog of background checks currently experienced in Colorado.
Susan Medina, a spokeswoman for CBI, said that as of the end of business Monday, that backlog numbered 10,099, with an expected wait time of seven days for a background check to be processed. She said that CBI is completing about 1,500 checks a day. And they keep coming.
When someone is interested in purchasing a firearm, they fill out a form. The retailer sends some of that information to CBI, Medina explained, and the person’s name and date of birth is run through seven different databases.
If there are no red flags that would prohibit that person from possessing a firearm, they’re cleared. But a felony conviction, domestic violence-related misdemeanor, a protection order or lack of U.S. residency would bar someone from being able to buy a gun.
For the most part, local retailers say that they’ve been unencumbered by the relatively long wait for a background check — since its the same throughout the state.
Many, however, are eying lawmakers’ plans regarding that issue specifically. Gov. John Hickenlooper called for universal background checks on all firearms purchases in Colorado in his State of the State address earlier this month.
That seems problematic for Nathan Burke, a Gunnison retailer who owns Last Line Defense. Particularly, Burke — who specializes in home defense and tactical-style weaponry, and has experienced a similar spike in sales as other local shops — sees problems with respect to private sales.
“We’re talking about something that’s been private and free for how long now?” he posed. “How are you gonna enforce that?”
Growing gun culture?
Gunnison Sportsmen’s Association’s (GSA) membership has grown substantially in the last few years as programs and facilities have expanded, said board President Gary Hausler. At the end of this past year, GSA had about 220 regular members and 60 law enforcement members, who use the gun club’s ranges for target practice and partake in numerous programs aimed at conveying firearms skill and safety.
“We provide a safe, controlled environment to use firearms,” Hausler said. “We provide education to the general public. We encourage basic firearms knowledge and safe use and handling of firearms.”
Along with a rise in permits for concealed carry countywide, Hausler said the organization has seen an uptick recently in requests for corresponding classes.
Amid talks of new gun-control laws, GSA sent a blast e-mail to its members Jan. 7 with contact information for state and federal lawmakers, urging locals to “express their opinion,” said Hausler. “We didn’t say what that opinion should be.”
If legislators are looking to recent polling conducted by the Post, however, they may find support for new gun-control laws.
The Post’s poll found that 70 percent of respondents favor universal background checks at the state and national level; 53 percent support a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; and 54 percent favor an assault weapons ban.
Gunnison’s Mike Anderson took issue with the latter of those findings, while milling about Tutor’s store Tuesday.
“What people call an assault rifle, around here they call ‘sporting rifles,’” he said. “They’re only assault weapons when somebody’s intent on using them as that.”
Gene Taylor’s Cochran — who bemoaned the shortage of .223 ammunition for having left varmint hunters hung out to dry — offered a different perspective.
“I would say that 50 percent of the people I’m talking to don’t have a problem with an assault weapons ban, to an extent,” he said. “There are certain guns that you could use for a coyote hunting rifle but they’re not the best for that.
“And on a coyote-hunting AR-15, five or 10 rounds is plenty.”
(Will Shoemaker can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org)