It may not be America’s favorite pastime, but owning and shooting guns might be a close runner-up.
Firearm retailers in Cache Valley are part of a nationwide, multi-billion-dollar industry that works to quench what experts say is a growing demand for guns and ammunition here and across the country.
Whether you shoot for sport, buy a gun for personal protection, or use the piece as a political statement, one thing is certain: Utah gun sales have increased substantially in recent years and don’t appear to be slowing.
Gunsmiths say there are a number of factors, including supply and politics. In 2008, for example, more people in Utah bought guns than during any other year since 1996, and the number of concealed firearm permits in Cache Valley and around the state has jumped dramatically since 2007.
State officials don’t keep tabs on every firearm purchased in Utah but do track each background check required to purchase a gun. The information is compiled by the same state bureau that gathers crime statistics, arrests and fingerprint records.
The Bureau of Criminal Identification filters every request for a firearm purchase and each year denies thousands of gun shop transactions. But for every denial there are hundreds of approved gun sales. Last year, 80,526 Utah residents made formal requests to purchase one or more firearms. The bureau has 16 years of data, much of which shows the same upward trend retailers can spot in their financial records each quarter.
Kris Larsen, owner of Al’s Sporting Goods in Logan, says his store noticed a gun sales spike in 2008 after the last presidential election and says the same upward trend is starting up again this year.
“Right when Obama won the election, it tended to create a fury of people worried about an increase in gun laws,” Larsen said. “In 2008 and 2009, even with the economy as bad as it was, there was an upswing in gun sales for sure.”
Rumors about restricted gun rights, he said, generates speculation in the firearms industry and rumor usually helps to drive up prices.
“Just rumor and talk is enough for the gun industry to go crazy,” Larsen added. “I’ve noticed this February, March and April, there has been a 40 to 50 percent increase in the number of background checks and that’s very reflective of what happened post-2008 election.”
Speculation also shifts the availability of shooting supplies.
Ammunition and reloading goods across the U.S. are becoming scarcer as the general election gets closer and as news reports highlight the candidates’ position on guns.
“In the last 60 days, we’ve noticed a real price increase and drop in availability of certain pistol ammunition and popular rifle ammunition,” Larsen said. “There have been rumors that certain things such as reloading supplies will be taxed by the Obama administration and that created a major shortage of those supplies over the last few years.”
But Larsen said residents of
Cache Valley are a lot more savvy than “alarmists” who drive up ammo demand.
“Cache Valley people are very level-headed and are looking at this rationally,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of the alarmist types. We have a lot of people who love their Second Amendment, and they love to shoot and shooting is not a bad thing.”
For gun owners who decide to carry a concealed firearm, the process has simplified in recent years and the required course work can be completed in just hours. Concealed firearm permit holders must be at least 21 and — in most cases — have no criminal record. In Cache Valley there are 16 instructors offering the four-hour course for a cost of between $40 and $150.
Permit instructor Paul White owns of a small gun store in Richmond and can even sell students a firearm if they don’t already have one. His customers range from first-time gun owners to combat-tested military veterans.
“People take my concealed firearms class for a number of reasons,” White said. “First and foremost is the desire to protect one’s self and family. Another group of people simply want to exercise their right. I also get some who take it for a political statement. I get all ages, all races, men and women and I even have people who take the class who have never owned a firearm or have never touched one.”
White sells an average of 250 guns a year from his online shop, MyFavoriteGunStore.com, which he said is much smaller compared to other retail gun establishments. White charges $40 to teach the program and prides his operation on quality training.
“I don’t teach for the money,” he said. “I teach it because I love it and I want people to get good training and to have a positive experience getting it.”
The curriculum for the course is set by the Utah Department of Public Safety and covers basic safety training, weapon familiarity and state and federal laws. However, it does not require participants to show proof of shooting experience. That, White said, is the responsibility of the gun owner.
“The reality is that if you don’t know how to operate your handgun, you are being highly irresponsible,” he said. “It’s not the state’s problem to teach you how to shoot, and it’s not my problem as an instructor to teach you.”
With the class credit complete and permit in hand, concealed carriers next have to choose which firearm is right for them. Popular gun models are the Ruger lightweight compact pistols, or LCPs, as they’re known in the industry. The small gun fits easily into a pant or coat pocket and when loaded weighs less than 10 ounces.
“They’re very easy to conceal and you can take them with you everywhere you go,” adds White. “Or I have some guys who want to buy the biggest tank of a gun they can buy and other people who like a 9-mm. They’re inexpensive to shoot and people of all ages and sizes can shoot them.”
White said he’s never met anyone who took up shooting who didn’t like it. With today’s online technology, background checks are quick and simple and access to guns and ammunition means anyone with a clean record can enjoy the privilege of owning a gun.
“I can’t think of a person I’ve ever met who doesn’t like shooting guns,” White said. “It’s a fun, safe activity.”