Karl Durkheimer is more coy than might be expected of a man with a pistol on his hip.
Durkheimer’s gun shop looks to have enjoyed record sales of semi-automatics — “modern sporting rifles,” as he calls them — and handguns last weekend, but he does not want to talk specific numbers.
Nor is he terribly keen to speculate on the causes of the sudden demand. However, he acknowledges that it probably has everything to do with a man killing two people with an assault rifle on Dec. 10 in a Portland shopping mall less than 10 minutes’ drive away, and the massacre of 20 small children and seven adults on the other side of the country in Connecticut last Friday.
“Handgun sales are up substantially and modern sporting rifles are up astronomically,” he said after a few days when his shop, Northwest Armory, was packed with buyers sizing up the most popular pistol in the US, the Glock, and the military-style AR-15 assault rifle, which also comes with a pink stock for women.
“The people you see are twofold. There are first-time buyers who are in fear of what the future will bring. But most of what you saw is people hedging their bets that there might be a political policy put forward by the liberal side of the government,” he said.
Durkheimer means his shoppers fear that the shock of the Newtown, Connecticut, killings might cause the public and Congress to support a reinstatement of the ban on some of his most popular lines.
That is a picture replicated across the US from California to Louisiana, and even in Newtown where Robert Caselnova said his gun shop saw high demand for assault rifles in the days after the killings. The nationwide increase in sales was reflected in longer than usual delays for legally required background checks which in some cases took hours rather than minutes.
The surge in sales is not unusual. Following a mass killing at a Colorado cinema in July, applications to buy guns rose more than 40 percent in a week. The murder two years ago of six people during an assassination attempt against US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was badly wounded, prompted a 60 percent increase in gun sales in a single day in Arizona.
The increase in weapons sales also comes in a year in which the FBI reported a record number of background checks for gun purchases, with nearly 17 million applications.
Durkheimer has seen that reflected in his own sales which have been rising all of this year. Last month, with US President Barack Obama’s re-election, they were more than double those of December last year.
“No question, an election year where Democrats are winning drives a lot of business,” he said.
Particularly when it is a Democrat like Obama who many conservatives regard as somehow un-American and fear he is after their guns even though his four years in power have seen only a loosening of firearms regulations.
However, Durkheimer, who counts elephant hunting in Africa among his pastimes, has not seen anything like the past weekend.
“There are two kinds of Americans. People who want to take care of themselves and those who want to be taken care of. The ones who want to take care of themselves are the ones who come into my shop,” he said.
The buyers regard the Newtown killings as a tragedy, but view any connection to their right to own weapons as a political ploy aimed at depriving them of their guns.