Gun sales spike after Newtown, other mass slayings
Updated 8:43 pm, Saturday, December 29, 2012
Firearm sales in Connecticut soared in 2012, reflecting a dramatic decade-long rise as residents armed themselves in an era of growing concerns about horrific crimes -- such as the Newtown school massacre -- and more restrictive gun laws.
Sparked by mass slayings such as the Aurora, Colo., movie theater killing spree and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, sales of handguns and long guns in the state are nearing 80,000 for 2012, more than triple the number sold in 2000, an analysis by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers shows.
"If you see a spike, it is one of two reasons -- both (involve) fear," said Fairfield Police Chief Gary MacNamara. "One, people are fearful because of a recent crime; two is people fearful of restrictions in the future."
In Connecticut's major towns and cities, handgun permits are rapidly increasing. From 2000 to 2012, the annual number of handguns sold in Danbury and Stamford quadrupled. Greenwich reported a three-fold jump in handgun sales, according to the Hearst review of the data.
Bridgeport, the state's largest city, saw overall firearm sales triple to more than 1,200 this year, despite summertime marches against gun violence and a two-week-old gun buyback program. In Hartford, gun sales nearly doubled, jumping to 521 in 2012, from 215 in 2000.
The figures reviewed by Hearst reflect approved handgun, rifle and automatic weapon sales compiled by the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection using numbers reported to the State Police Special Licensing and Firearms unit.
"People are seeing a need to arm themselves," Crook said Friday. "Every day they are reading in the newspapers that somebody got shot, and the shooter is often a convicted felon."
Crook said gun owners are also concerned that federal and state governments are considering stronger anti-gun legislation. As a result, he said members of his organization and the National Rifle Association believe the time is now or never to buy firearms.
That response and the swelling sales worry gun control advocates. Nationally, background checks performed by the FBI related to gun sales indicate purchases have jumped since 2000.
"I'm scared. I'm horrified. I'm fearful for this country," said Nancy Alderman, president of the nonprofit Environment and Human Health Inc., a Connecticut public policy group that is calling on state Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Legislature to approve more stringent gun legislation in coming months.
Alderman said violent crimes including the Cheshire home invasion and murders, the bloody Bridgeport drug wars, and the horrific Dec. 14 Newtown school shootings that killed 20 elementary students and six adults, have persuaded some people that "they need to be armed."
Gun purchases spiked nationally earlier this year after James Holmes fired into a crowded Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a showing of the ultra-violent "Dark Knight Rises" Batman sequel, killing 12 and injuring 58. In Colorado alone, gun sales exceeded all of 2011 by early November, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.
The recent shootings followed others tragedies ranging from the Tucson, Ariz., shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 to the 2009 Fort Hood attack that left 13 dead and 29 wounded.
"These have not been happy years," said Claire Gold, a board member of Connecticut Collaborative for Education Against Gun Violence. "People feel insecure because of the violence. We're living in an anxious world. Every day you can pick up any paper and read someone has been shot."
That sense of lost security sends people to the gun shop. In the days after the Newtown shooting, gun sales in the state doubled, police data shows.
But Connecticut's buying spree dates back much farther.
Danbury has sold the most guns in western Connecticut this year: 1,332, up from 287 in 2000. Stamford merchants sold 1,318 guns in 2012, up from 391 in 2000. Over the same 12-year period, Greenwich sales increased to 961, from 379. Bridgeport reported 1,223 gun sales in 2012, up from 405 in 2000.
In Putnam, Eastford, Lisbon and Middlebury, sales increased more than 500 percent, the biggest percentage increase in the state.
Some believe one reason for the increase statewide and nationally is the ongoing discussion about gun control.
"I would say President Obama is the best gun seller in the country," said Craig Fishbein, a Wallingford lawyer and member of the Connecticut Board of Firearms Examiners, which oversees appeals of denied gun permits.
Fishbein said that Connecticut has toughened laws regarding gun possession, including regulations for gun seizures in temporary restraining order cases.
"We have a lot of things in place in Connecticut to protect against gun violence," Fishbein said. "Some good, some bad."
But Connecticut remains a place synonymous with shooting. There are roughly 170,000 pistol permit holders in the state, said Crook, the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen head.
Hunters and collectors alike drive up gun sales, he said, adding that some guns appreciate in value faster than stocks.
Fishbein said the "hysteria" that follows major crimes usually riles up both gun opponents and staunch supporters, leading to more stringent proposals that send some people scrambling to preserve gun rights.
"There is pretty much, and has been, a fervor for people to get permits for two or three years now," Fishbein said. "To get them while they can."
On Dec. 16, Obama pledged to a packed Newtown High School auditorium that action would be taken to prevent mass shootings. While his comments were welcomed by many, it apparently spurred some people to buy more guns before it was too late, Fishbein said.
Several state legislators have told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers that they are pushing to create a commission to study the Newtown massacre, not just in terms of gun legislation and firearms safety programs, but to strengthen school security, mental health programs and mandatory homeowner insurance requirements for gun owners.
"We've become a gun-owning people, and I find it frightening," said Alderman, of Environment and Human Health. "Am I naive to think, when passed, the legislation will solve all problems? Of course not. But we need to look at everything and anything that can help. The situation is so bad that we shouldn't be held responsible for lack of trying."
Some Connecticut cities began fighting back just days after the Newtown shooting, with both New Haven and Bridgeport holding gun buyback programs.
For Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, it marks the second time he has taken that approach. In the past two weeks, Bridgeport has bought back more than 300 guns, including semi-automatic rifles, for about $34,000 in cash and gift cards.
With an additional $30,000 in gift cards donated by Food Bazaar on Friday and more expected, Finch intends to continue the buyback every Saturday through January at the Police Department's Community Services Division at 1395 Sylvan Ave.
"The unfortunate truth is that the majority of gun crimes in America are committed by people who obtain their guns illegally," said Finch, a vocal member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. "It is time for a national standard on guns, not state-by-state regulations."
But gun owners grumble about the already restrictive rules.
Sterrett Pixley, 35, of Stratford, said he used to be an avid shooter in Colorado but hasn't hit the shooting ranges in Connecticut since moving here in 2003 because he doesn't have the required permits.
"I don't think they're too strict," he said of the gun laws in Connecticut, recalling the loose rules in Colorado. "I bought my handgun on Sunday of (a) July Fourth weekend. It took 20 minutes, and I was out the door without a permit."
Pixley -- who forfeited a dangerous collapsible rifle during Bridgeport's gun buyback program on Friday -- said he has taken a safety course required for the Connecticut permits but hasn't finished the legal paperwork and fingerprinting.
"It's just money and time really," he said. "It's kind of a confusing process."
Finch said about 40 percent of guns are sold on the secondary market, such as gun shows, where 33 states do not require sellers to perform background checks.
Ron Pinciaro, who heads Connecticut Against Gun Violence, is planning a Feb. 14 march on Hartford for stronger gun legislation. He said his coalition wants to make sure Connecticut "has the strongest gun laws in the country."
He points to the speed with which Australia responded to the April 1996 mass murder of 35 people and wounding of 23 others by a single gunman with a Colt AR-15 at a Port Arthur tourist resort.
Within weeks, the Australian government began a buyback program during which 643,000 firearms were returned in exchange for $350 million.
The country also passed a complete ban on semi-automatic weapons and enacted a 28-day waiting period before a new firearm is turned over to the purchaser.
"They never had another mass murder," Pinciaro said.
Staff writers Ken Dixon and Ericka Mellon contributed to this report.