Gun stores in Kennewick, Wash., see record sales

Tri-City HeraldFebruary 4, 2013 

Kennewick's Columbia Gun Rack looks empty.

Handguns are sparse in the glass showcase where General Manager Holly Myers helps a seemingly endless line of customers.

Soaring sales of guns and ammunition are making it difficult for businesses like Columbia Gun Rack and Grigg's Department Store in Pasco to keep their shelves stocked.

More Tri-Citians seem to be exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms as lawmakers debate adding restrictions and banning certain firearms.

President Obama has called for a ban on so-called "assault weapons," a 10-round limit for ammunition magazines and a requirement for background checks on all gun sales, including those at gun shows and between private individuals.

Since the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, Myers said, business has been four times as busy as normal at Columbia Gun Rack, which recently moved a few doors down to a bigger space at 314 W. Kennewick Ave.

It's terrible to have such a tragedy spur gun sales, Myers said.

Some people say they are buying guns for personal safety. Others say they are afraid of a possible ban.

Darlene Agnew was one of several people waiting in the lobby of the Kennewick Police Department on Thursday to be fingerprinted as part of her concealed pistol license application.

Agnew decided to apply for safety reasons, she said. She's a single woman older than 65 who retired after 45 years in nursing and will be traveling on her own in an RV. She plans to take a seven-hour class on gun handling, safety, the law and actual shooting before purchasing a firearm.

Charlie Grigg, vice president of Grigg's Department Store, also decided a few weeks ago to buy a gun for the first time. He went shooting with relatives.

"We had a fantastic time," he said. "It's something new."

Grigg, 50, said the demand has been high enough that it dried up supplies for a time. Some guns don't last a day on the shelves.

The gun counter at the Pasco store was closed for about two weeks in January while the staff spent time catching up on forms and paperwork, Grigg said. They also recently put in a laptop computer that customers can use to fill out paperwork electronically for the federal background check.

Under federal law, a merchant must call the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, run by the FBI, before selling any gun to anyone.

The checks -- which include U.S. citizenship, state residency status and criminal history -- typically take just a few minutes.

Customers who cannot show a concealed-pistol license at the store must wait five days before taking ownership of a handgun.

Gun sales took a similar jump when Obama was first elected four years ago. Then, the demand seemed to level off. But since just before his re-election last year, "The craze was back on," Grigg said.

Around Christmas, 30 to 40 people would line up at Grigg's gun counter.

"We haven't seen lines like that in a long time," he said.

Their Kennewick Ace Hardware and sporting goods store just started carrying guns and ammunition this week. The Richland stores already stocked guns and ammunition, although Grigg's Department Store still has the largest selection.

And they're adding a website that allows customers to see their stock at all four stores and reserve it online.

Myers said her stock is down to about a quarter of what she can carry. And certain things she just can't keep on the shelf, including the military-looking semi-automatic rifles sometimes described as "assault rifles."

"As fast as I get it in, it's turning around and selling," she said.

Myers frequently has to tell customers that something is on backorder or just isn't in.

Manufacturers just can't keep up, and with supply down, prices are climbing. For example, an AR-15 rifle that sold for $700 a few months ago now can cost as much as $2,000 in some places.

Myers said she's seeing more first-time gun buyers and more female customers.

She expects the market to eventually come down from the peak of the roller coaster. The craze started five weeks ago, and shows no sign of slowing, she said.

If an employee feels uncomfortable selling a gun to someone, they don't, Grigg said.

"We want the right people to have them more than anybody," he said, adding the problem is the people who skirt the system, not the guns.

"Guns don't hurt people if they are used properly, and they are kept safely," he said.

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