Number of concealed handgun licenses more than doubles

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Keith's Sporting Goods is seeing a brisk business in the wake of President Barack Obama's proposed gun control legislation, including reinstating a ban on assault weapons. Coincidentally, the store's motto is, 'If we don't have it, you don't need it.'

It’s a cold, yet sunny, Friday afternoon, but the frigid temperatures are not keeping people away from Keith’s Sporting Goods in Gresham.

Walk inside and you’re immediately met with a sign directing customers to form a line to the left where 13 people wait to buy ammunition. Another 10 customers browse rifles, shotguns and display cases full of handguns.

Since President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Jan. 16, outlined proposed Congressional actions aimed at curbing gun violence, people are flocking to local gun shops hoping to stock up on ammunition and guns that could become outlawed.

Obama is calling for Congress to reinstate and strengthen a 10-year ban on assault weapons that ended in 2005, limit ammunition magazines to 10 rounds, allow only police and the military to possess armor-piercing bullets and require criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers who are now exempt.

The initiative is in response to recent high-profile mass shootings in which men armed with assault-style weapons have stormed a Colorado movie theater killing 12 and injuring 58; a Connecticut grade school, killing 20 young children and six adults; and most locally a Clackamas shopping mall brimming with holiday shoppers, killing two and injuring one.

Since the school and mall shootings, Multnomah County has seen the number of applications for concealed handgun licenses more than double. During the first half of December, when the mall shooting and the school shooting took place, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office processed 194 applications. That number jumped 62 percent to 316 in the second half of December and to 444 in the first half of January.

Lt. Steve Alexander, sheriff’s office spokesman, said the increase can’t be directly attributed to increased fear of gun violence or to preparations for a possible ban on certain types of guns or ammunition. But historically, the number of applications increases during election cycles when there’s a change in administration at the state or national level, he said.

“The last time we saw this kind of uptick was in 2008, when there were rumors of proposed gun control legislation,” he said. That’s the same year Obama, a Democrat, was elected ending eight years of a Republican held White House.

Now that Obama has been elected to a second four-year term — and last week signed off on 23 executive actions related to gun violence — it’s triggered a whole new level of demand for guns and ammo.

“I actually got parking this week,” said Jeff, a regular customer at Keith’s, who asked that his last name not be used. He’s seeing people buying all kinds of guns, but there’s particular demand for “black guns,” also known as ARs, he said.

The Salem man is a retired nurse for the Department of Corrections and used to serve in the Army. He uses guns for sport and self-defense from former prison inmates he runs into after they’re paroled.

“I can’t tell you how many times a threat of a show of force was enough to avoid violence,” he said while standing outside the gun store on East Powell Boulevard. “Five guys can’t take on one handgun no matter how many lead pipes they have.”

His perspective on guns and Obama’s proposed measures is unique, he said, due to his career providing medical treatment to criminals.

“I’ve seen what weapons can do to a person’s life,” he said, adding that he met inmates who got drunk, killed people and now are spending the rest of their lives in prison.

He understands the “public paranoia” feeding high gun demand — and high prices.

“People want to defend themselves,” he said. “They’re afraid the government will take that right away.

“But when it comes right down to it, it’s kind of pathetic. They’re buying now because in three months they won’t be able to.”

Or put another way, “Tell me I can’t have something and I want it a lot worse,” he said.

He opposes the proposed ban on assault-style weapons.

“You can cut them all up into a million pieces, but the criminals will still have them,” he said. “I would turn over my weapons if everyone did, including the thug down the street who’s about to rob your grandmother.

“When I see little kids getting mowed down by an assault weapon, does it make me feel good? No. The last think I want to see is people blasting each other. But you’ve got to be able to defend yourself from the mayhem.”

The legislature should create stiffer penalties for gun-related crimes and educate children so they have respect for weapons, he added.

Politicians also need to invest in mental health services, and not just for those behind bars, where the vast majority of treatment is given, he said.

“Do you want to treat the mentally ill or do you want to play with the muzzle brake on my rifle? Please,” he said. “Invest some money in mental health and stop wasting our time and money with feel-good bans that don’t work. If they did, I’d be all for them.”

Scott Gilbreth, who co-owns C&S Discount Firearms in Gresham, said his inventory got wiped out last month in part due to the holiday rush, but also because of fears following the Clackamas Town Center shooting and talk of more gun regulations.

“Oh, it’s just going crazy,” he said of demand.

As for many of Obama’s proposals, Gilbreth is on board, and not just because it’s good for business. Stronger background checks are a no-brainer. Private sales need more regulation, and should only be made through a dealer with a federal firearms license, he said.

He’s on the fence about the possible ban on high-capacity magazines, but opposes the proposed ban on assault-style weapons. Guns are such an integral part of America’s rich history and culture, he said.

An armed public made it possible for America to win its independence from the British crown, giving rise to our nation’s emphasis on freedom and individualism.

Gilbreth thinks more emphasis should be placed on mental health services and on gun safety, specifically the need to lock them in a safe when not in use.

“The last two shootings involved guns that were stolen,” he said.

But he’s willing to compromise — “Give a little, get a little,” he said — in part because he wants his 12-year-old son to be safe at Centennial Middle School.

“Definitely something needs to be done,” Gilbreth said. “I am willing to give on this issue. I just want the right changes to be made so it does make a difference.”

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