South Sound-area gun shops are bustling as politicians and organizations discuss the nation’s gun laws. However, dealers say the sales spike is a reaction to last month’s election, not this month’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut.
The number of concealed-weapons permits also has risen locally. The Olympia Police Department has issued 315 this year, up from 219 last year, said spokeswoman Laura Wohl.
Mary Davies, co-owner of Mary’s Pistols in Tacoma, said businesses has steadily increased since November. Thursday alone was four times as busy as her previous best day on record, she said.
Davies’ AK-47 assault rifles and AR-15 semi-automatic rifles were the first to sell out, followed by semi-automatic pistols and other handguns. None of Davies’ seven distributors nationwide will have any of the assault or semi-automatic rifles in stock until next year.
Davies usually sees an uptick in business in the first five months of the year, when customers receive tax refunds. Because this was an election year, business is booming early, she said.
“Every four years and re-election years, that uptick in buying continues through the remainder of the year,” she said. “It gets pretty tiring around here.”
Olympic Arms off Old Pacific Highway in Thurston County is experiencing a similar boost.
The company, which specializes in gun manufacturing, had 10 times the amount of business this week as it had even a week ago, said sales director Tom Spithaler.
“There is a huge demand right now on anything that would in any way be questioned by pending legislation or the talk that is going on,” Spithaler said. “Especially semi-automatics and high-capacity magazines.”
The store has sold out of semi-automatics and assault rifles. People who place an order now won’t get their hands on the gun for five or six months, he said.
Customers have been lining up outside the shop before it opens at 8 a.m., he said. The scene has been similar at Cascade Arms Co. off Martin Way in Olympia.
Owner Jeff Hursh said the store has been “slammed” with customers and orders.
Several people were lined up outside when the shop opened at 11 a.m. Friday. Walls that usually have an assortment of guns on display only had a few left.
Also Friday, the National Rifle Association suggested that every school should have an armed guard patrolling the halls.
The Olympia School District has two armed, uniformed Olympia police officers who serve as school resource officers, patrolling both the district’s high schools.
They also visit nearby middle and elementary schools. The officers have been at the schools since the mid-1990s, said Conor Schober, district interim director of communications.
The district also has unarmed security guards at each high school.
The Tacoma School District also uses school resource officers, as well as unarmed civilian security guards and commissioned patrol officers. The district has a contract with the Tacoma Police Department, which provides five school resource officers — one each for Lincoln, Stadium, Mount Tahoma, Foss and Wilson high schools.
The district brought on school resource officers after a student was shot and killed by another student at Foss High School in 2007.
The district’s most recent shooting was in 2010, when a stalker shot a teacher before school began.
“Unfortunately, we have had too much experience dealing with it,” said Dan Voelpel, district spokesman.
Unarmed security officers patrol the district’s specialty high school and middle schools. There also are eight armed and commissioned patrol officers assigned to patrol all the schools.
“They are trained and commissioned officers, but are our employees,” Voelpel said. “They aren’t with any police department, but they have the same training.”
“It’s a very important presence for us,” he said. “One of the very difficult things to measure is prevention, but we do know that because the officers are assigned to those specific school … they develop really good relationships with students and hear a lot of things that potentially could be problems, so it allows them to intervene ahead of time.”
‘IT’S SHAKY GROUND’
At Mary’s Pistols, Davies questions whether she should even put in an order for semi-automatic or assault rifles next year.
“It’s scary for me to order something I wouldn’t be able to transfer,” Davies said. “Some of the gun talk and law restrictions being thought about is that the transfer of any high-capacity magazine or certain types of magazines would be illegal.
“It’s shaky ground as to whether I want to order one of those products in until I know what the proposed legislation is going to read.”
Davies said she’s “very disappointed” that talk after the Connecticut shootings has focused on gun laws, rather than mental health issues.
“I can’t blame the tool; I have to blame the user,” she said.