After a Glock-wielding gunman killed six people at a Tucson shopping center on Jan. 8, Greg Wolff, the owner of two Arizona gun shops, told his manager to get ready for a stampede of new customers.
Wolff was right. Instead of hurting sales, the massacre had the $499 semi-automatic pistols -- popular with police, sport shooters and gangsters -- flying out the doors of his Glockmeister stores in Mesa and Phoenix.
“We’re at double our volume over what we usually do,” Wolff said two days after the shooting spree that also left 14 wounded, including Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in critical condition.
A national debate over weaknesses in state and federal gun laws stirred by the shooting has stoked fears among gun buyers that stiffer restrictions may be coming from Congress, gun dealers say. The result is that a deadly demonstration of the weapon’s effectiveness has also fired up sales of handguns in Arizona and other states, according to federal law enforcement data.
“When something like this happens people get worried that the government is going to ban stuff,” Wolff said.
Arizona gun dealers say that among the biggest sellers over the past two days is the Glock 19 made by privately held Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria, the model used in the shooting.
One-day sales of handguns in Arizona jumped 60 percent on Jan. 10 compared with the corresponding Monday a year ago, the second-biggest increase of any state in the country, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data. From a year earlier, handgun sales ticked up yesterday 65 percent in Ohio, 16 percent in California, 38 percent in Illinois and 33 percent in New York, the FBI data show, and increased nationally about 5 percent.
Federally tracked gun sales, which are drawn from sales in gun stores that require a federal background check, also jumped following the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, in which 32 people were killed.
“Whenever there is a huge event, especially when it’s close to home, people do tend to run out and buy something to protect their family,” said Don Gallardo, a manager at Arizona Shooter’s World in Phoenix, who said that the number of people signing up for the store’s concealed weapons class doubled over the weekend. Gallardo said he expects handgun sales to climb steadily throughout the week.
Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old accused in the shooting, has a petty criminal record, yet so far there’s no evidence that his background contained anything that would have prevented him from buying a handgun in Arizona, where limits on owning and carrying a gun are among the most permissive in the country, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun- control advocacy group.
Critics have focused on the extended magazine used in the shooting. It was illegal until 2004 under the expired federal ban on assault weapons. The clip -- still banned in some states and popular in Arizona, gun dealers say -- allegedly allowed Loughner to fire 33 rounds without reloading.
Democratic Representative Carolyn McCarthy of New York said this week that she plans to introduce legislation that would ban the high-capacity magazine. McCarthy’s husband was one of six people shot to death in 1993 by a lone gunman on a Long Island railroad train. Her son was among the 19 people wounded.
“The fact that the guy had a magazine that could carry 33 rounds, he was not out to just kill. He was there to do a mass killing,” said Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensics expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Light and easy to use, a Glock 9 mm was also wielded by the Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Cho, in a spree that left 32 people dead. The gun is among the most popular sidearms for U.S. police departments. A negative for law enforcement is that the rifling of the barrel makes it almost impossible to match a bullet to an individual weapon with ballistic tests, Kobilinsky said.
“It’s one of the greatest guns made in the history of the world,” said Wolff, whose two stores sell Glock-made weapons almost exclusively.
When Loughner allegedly walked into Tucson’s Sportsman’s Warehouse last November to buy a Glock 19 -- favored as a concealed weapon because it is slightly smaller and lighter than similar caliber handguns -- federal law would have required a background check via the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a telephone-based check administered by the FBI.
Loughner would have had to present his driver’s license and answer several questions, including queries on past drug use, domestic violence or felony convictions. Wolff said in most cases the check takes less than five minutes and the number of denials he receives is a tiny fraction of the total.
Wolff called the shooting “horrible.” Nonetheless, it has created a surge of publicity for the gun, he said.
“It’s in the news now. I’m sure the Green Bay Packers are selling all kinds of jerseys today as well,” he said. “I just think our state embraces guns.”
Arizona law allows anyone to carry a gun in public if it’s in full view, making it what’s known as an open-carry state. Until recently, gun store owners say, it was common to see people carrying weapons in grocery stores or coffee shops. That’s less true today, because last year that state passed a law allowing individuals to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Gun Law Rating
Daniel Vise, senior attorney with the Brady Campaign, said Arizona received a score of two out of 100 on the organization’s rating of state gun laws, and that the rate of gun deaths in the state is one and a half times the national average.
Brady Campaign spokeswoman Caroline Brewer said that some states require local law enforcement agencies to approve gun permits, a system that would have given authorities a chance to further assess Loughner, whose behavior acquaintances have described as erratic. Loughner tried to buy ammunition the morning of the shooting at a local Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outlet, then left during the sale process, according to a statement by the company.
“If a clerk at Wal-Mart picked something up and refused to sell this guy some ammunition, we can certainly imagine that law enforcement would have picked that up as well,” Brewer said.