Enthusiasts up in arms

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Local sporting goods and firearms retailers have seen a huge spike in demand for guns and ammunition as a national discussion about gun control intensifies.

The demand has surged since the Dec. 14 Newtown slayings of 20 children and six teachers and administrators.

The shooting, and other similar events such as the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., last year, have spurred calls from President Barack Obama, officials in Congress and states across the country for tighter restrictions on assault-style weapons. Other measures discussed include tighter background checks and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Gun retailers both locally and nationally report bare shelves and few answers for customers seeking to buy guns and ammo.

Lee Peterson, owner of Peterson's Gun Sport in Sonora, said Tuesday that suppliers have stores like his on waitlists and at best can't say when stock will be available.

Others, like suppliers of the AR-15 rifle, the type of gun used in December's Newton, Conn., school massacre, report a two-year wait.

The market has also driven up prices up for personal and consignment sales, Peterson said.

"Everything is back-ordered. We've had people in here all morning," he said. "There's been a big increase."

At Walmart and Big 5 Sporting Goods in Sonora, signs were posted Wednesday stating high demand for bullets has cut their stocks. Both stores are limiting how many boxes of ammo a customer can purchase per visit.

Bill Reynolds, owner of Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods in Arnold, said demand has completely depleted his store's supply of firearms and ammunition stocks, and suppliers have said they have run out for the time being.

"A lot of companies are not even taking orders right now," he said. "That panic spreads across the board."

The issue may become more acute in California as state lawmakers weigh stricter regulations - like tighter restrictions on handguns, assault rifles and ammunition purchases that would add to regulations that already are among the nation's toughest.

The chairmen of the Assembly and Senate public safety committees said during a joint legislative hearing Tuesday that they will seek consensus on legislation that includes taxing ammunition sales, limiting magazine capacity extending existing bans to weapons purchased before current prohibitions took effect.

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said the hearing was meant to "set aside some of the emotion" on gun violence and determine what reasonable steps can be taken to improve public safety.

The depleted supply has been frustrating for local gun owners and enthusiasts.

Tuolumne County resident Adam Herd usually buys his ammunition at the big local chain stores, and the fact that they haven't had any answers for his questions has been the most difficult part, he said.

"They have absolutely no clue what they're gonna get, and when they're going to get it," Herd said. "That's what's frustrating."

While the gun control talk has affected the market, Peterson said he believes it goes beyond that. Budget cuts around the country have led to decreased law enforcement presence. And in California, a realignment of the prison system has meant early release for some convicted criminals, he said.

"Everyone is looking to defend themselves," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Union Democrat
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