Visiting several gun shops in the area Thursday, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Detective Larry McKinnon said the scene was reminiscent of “Home Depot just before a hurricane.”
At Shoot Straight on U.S. 301 in Tampa, customers anticipating tighter gun control restrictions crowded into the gun store in the hopes of purchasing a weapon.
“Guns are flying off the shelves,” said McKinnon. “People are worried everything will be locked down.”
Dr. Richard Kane, owner of Care Animal Hospital on Bloomingdale Avenue, said he waited an hour at Shoot Straight to purchase clips for his handgun only to discover the gun store was out of his ammunition.
He headed to Smooth Action Firearms, 833 W. Bloomingdale Ave., Brandon, hoping for better luck.
“This is the third place I’ve been to looking for clips,” he said. “It’s insane.”
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Like other gun owners and would-be gun owners, Kane foresees a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Sandy Creek Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14. That possibility prompted a run on gun stores throughout the area this week.
“Much of it is just media hype and misinformation,” said Bob Brooks, owner of Smooth Action Firearms. “Obama said he’s going to take a look at gun control, and people have misinterpreted that to mean they won’t be able to get guns.”
But Brooks isn't complaining. Gun sales at Smooth Action Firearms have doubled, and Brooks said he’s struggling to keep up with the demand.
“We’ve seen a 100 percent spike,” he said. “Unfortunately, we can’t replace our inventory. Even some of the biggest wholesale distributors in the United States have nothing in stock.”
To demonstrate, Brooks ran an inventory search for a .223-caliber Bushmaster Remington semi-automatic rifle with Ellett Brothers, a national wholesale distributor of firearms. The search came up empty.
The .223 Remington is a popular recreational target-shooting rifle. It’s also the rifle used by Adam Lanza to kill the 20 children and six adults at Sandy Creek Elementary School. With that in mind, gun control advocates are calling for a ban on the Bushmaster .223 and similar semi-automatic weapons.
Kane said he isn’t interested in owning a semi-automatic weapon. He carries a concealed handgun for personal protection.
“We’ve been robbed seven times at Care by people looking for drugs,” he said. “We’ve installed a security system with video cameras, extra lighting and have concealed weapon holders on the premises.”
But Kane is concerned about an erosion of his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
“I have five children and the shooting in Connecticut is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard,” Kane said. “It’s a sad, sad situation, but the cure is not to make it harder for responsible citizens to own guns, especially when the bad people will find a way to get the weapons illegally.”
McKinnon has been monitoring the situation at local gun shops.
“The sheriff is a big supporter of the Second Amendment,” said McKinnon. “He believes in the right to own a gun as long as the current restrictions are imposed keeping guns out of the hands of convicted felons, those under age and the mentally incompetent.”
He added that he personally doesn’t believe further gun control will “fix” the problem.
“We live in a world of violence – where children play extremely violent video games over and over again that desensitizes them from reality,” said McKinnon. “And both the national and state mental health systems are suffering. Forty percent of the inmates in the county jail are on psychotropic drugs. Instead of receiving treatment, the mentally ill often end up in jail. It’s a national problem. We need to take a serious look at what we’re doing without overreacting.”
Brooks believes the gun control advocates are focusing on the wrong targets – the legitimate gun stores that are abiding by laws intended to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and the mentally ill.
“We have the restrictions in place,” he said, noting that anyone purchasing a gun, including law enforcement personnel, is required to fill out the U.S. Department of Justice’s comprehensive 4473 form and undergo a background check.
“But there are loopholes,” he said. “People are purchasing guns privately and at gun shows without the paperwork or background check. If all person-to-person gun sales were forced to go through a gun store, it would curtail a lot of the problems.”