Gun sales remain steady amid controversy over mass shootings

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Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger aren’t waiting on legislation after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Florida — they’ve set their own policies to limit gun sales.

Spurred by the knowledge that one of its stores last year sold a shotgun to the shooter in Florida (although he used an AR-15 in the attack) Dick’s announced Feb. 28 that it would no longer sell assault-style rifles at its Field & Stream stores, it would no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21, and it would no longer sell high-capacity magazines. Walmart and Kroger enacted similar policies.

In Colorado Springs, gun shop owners say they’re not following suit.

“We follow the state and the federal regulations” on firearms sales, background checks and age requirements, said Todd Lockburner, co-owner and general manager of Magnum Shooting Center, adding that when it comes to introducing sales restrictions, “We have no intention of doing that on our own.”

Paul Paradis, who has owned Paradise Sales on the Westside for 34 years, said: “If the law is an 18-year-old can buy a gun, I’m going to sell it to him.

“Now I have, many times — when somebody comes in and I feel uncomfortable about them or they’re saying wacky things — they ain’t buying a gun from me,” he added. “We spend a lot of time talking to our customers. It’s not ‘Here, give me your money, here’s a gun, get out of here.’ But I can’t say I’m perfect at judging.”

Paradis, a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, opposes gun regulation and sees no value in increased background checks or bans on particular weapons.

“The background check thing — I spent 28 years working homicide cases [as a firearms expert], somewhere around 1,200 homicides. That paperwork has never stopped a criminal, ever,” he said. “We waste literally billions of dollars on collecting records that do nothing to stop the criminal. A lot of the cases that I see, if crime labs had the money we’d be catching more people; if we had more mental health care, that would be helping; but stacking up paper, even when someone gets denied, that doesn’t stop them from getting a gun — there’s too many places they can get one.

“I’d rather see the money being spent on things that are proactive rather than reactive.”

But there’s disagreement on what constitutes a proactive measure.

Amy Chambers, a Colorado volunteer chapter leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said there’s tremendous value not only in legislation for gun regulation, but in the types of actions retailers are taking to put limits on sales.

Public opinion shifting

“I think every one of us has a role… [A]s an organizing movement, we have seen that the national stage has been kind of stalemated and we work heavily at the local level, whether it’s students in Parkland [scene of the Feb. 14 mass shooting] themselves speaking out, or grassroots organizations like Moms Demand Action,” she said. “Then you have these retailers coming out, and it feels like the court of public opinion is really shifting and really looking for some movement.

“I think it says a lot that the businesses are [saying], ‘We don’t need to keep waiting. We have standards and we need to have a response and we owe it to our customers and our communities to take this stand and raise our standards in terms of sales where firearms are concerned.’ … It’s all these things working in concert. In some cases it’s about courage and moving forward with it, and I think that the retailers coming out is definitely a boon.”

Paradis and Lockburner both said the mass shooting in Florida and the ensuing debate haven’t rattled gun sales.

“We’ve kept steady,” Paradis said. “A couple of months like last January [2017, after the election of President Trump] were devastatingly bad months, but even before what happened in Florida and Douglas County [Colo., where a gunman ambushed five law enforcement officers, killing one] things had started moving back to what I would call normal.”

Have sales stayed normal since then?

“If you look at it day by day, it is a damn roller coaster. I can go from a few thousand dollars in sales in a day to $50 the next,” Paradis said, noting that business takes a much bigger hit when soldiers deploy from Fort Carson.

“There’s no such business that remains stable, that doesn’t go up and down,” he said. “… After the Obama years, which were absolutely insane, I don’t know how many people I talked out of buying guns. They were just rushing out to buy something before they couldn’t get one. I try to educate them about their responsibilities.”

He still sells AR-15s, and won’t support restrictions.

“Are they going to limit them? Are they going to do something like California? Every time they ban something, someone finds some way to make something that gets around that law,” he said. “And does that really solve the problem?”

Lockburner noted the same trend.

General manager Todd Lockburner, behind the counter in Magnum Shooting Center’s retail area.

“We know in the past with the Obama administration and, before that, the Clinton administration, when they talk about gun control you obviously see sales go up,” he said. “Concealed carry classes and firearms safety classes follow a trend more of when there is a [mass shooting] incident, people who’ve been wanting to do [training], it gives them a bit more motivation to go ahead and protect themselves and get some training.”

Paradis said training is his top priority. It’s the first thing he talks about.

“I’m a gun owner, I believe in the Second Amendment, I believe it’s a right — but it’s also a responsibility,” he said. “And like everything else in today’s society, people want their rights but they don’t want their responsibilities. Most people go to a one- or three-hour class, they get a piece of paper, they don’t get trained but they don’t care … they can get their concealed carry permit. I look at every one of them as an accident waiting to happen.”

Paradis said the 10-hour gun training courses he started running 34 years ago have become 26-hour classes.

“For 18 years I ran the crime lab that the state public defender’s office had, and my cases broke into three different areas. About a third of them were accidents. About a third of them were people that thought they were acting in self-defense but didn’t understand the law — for example, [when] the ‘Make My Day’ law isn’t [applicable]. And about a third of the cases were really ugly bad guys that deserve to be locked away forever.

“I tried to keep people from making mistakes, and when we saw the same things happening year after year we kept adding stuff into our class. So now it’s a 26-hour class. And honestly I wish it was 50.”

He says he can’t force customers to take the class, “but if I could beat people into taking it, I would. I probably lose a few customers, because I try to push it hard.”

Lockburner sees the Dick’s announcement as “politics. Somebody on their board or somebody higher up … has a political persuasion to go in that direction,” he said.

Other weapons “shoot just as fast”

He sees no use in restricting AR-15s when there are “hundreds of examples” of weapons that “shoot just as fast and shoot something the same as [5.56mm ammunition] or even more powerful — and it’s not even on the radar, nobody even thinks about that.

“These firearms all operate the same way but because the AR-15 is so prolific, everybody thinks it’s so dangerous. But it really doesn’t operate any differently than these other guns that look harmless.”

Paradis said Dick’s move to add restrictions to gun sales “won them $50 million of free advertising,” but will ultimately hurt their bottom line.

“What they’re going to lose are customers that didn’t care what they sold, but now that they put out ‘I’m against the kind of gun you want,’ I think they’re going to see a decrease in business over time,” he said.

Chambers sees it differently, after visiting a Dick’s store with a group of other moms, to thank the manager and talk about any backlash.

“And he said, ‘You know, in fact we’re mostly getting a very positive response,’” she said.

“I think it’s a great step and it’s demonstrating that the collective — individuals and the business community — we all want to see these kinds of changes. They’re common sense. It shouldn’t be political, and we’re willing to move without the politicians if need be.”

“Red flag” bill

Chambers said Moms Demand Action had tripled its numbers in the state in the past two weeks. On Monday, more than 300 volunteers met with Colorado legislators and learned they’re considering a late package of bills that could include an extreme risk protection order or “red flag” bill.

An ERPO would allow family members or police to petition a court to remove weapons from a person who presents a risk to themselves or others. It’s the kind of intervention that could potentially prevented the Douglas County shootings as well as the tragedy in Florida, Chambers said.

Lockburner doesn’t have concerns about legislation as it relates to business, he said, “because as they try to push and change and they pass more laws, sales go up.

“We can see that in other areas with really tight gun control laws — they have a constant state of panic and they sell tons and tons of firearms and retail goods. It may not be the exact same items or SKUs that we’re selling here, because they can’t buy those there, but they’re still buying what they’re allowed to at a higher rate.

“My concern is more personally, I have a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old and to think of their freedoms getting taken away … their right to protect themselves getting taken away, it bothers me more on a personal level.”

Chambers said freedom to access firearms comes at a price.

“We’re giving up the freedom to feel safe,” she said. “The First Amendment is about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and I think if we continue to allow this guns-everywhere agenda we are compromising ourselves. You can see sometimes the alternatives proposed are ‘Well, let’s put more security in place at schools.’ It’s kind of walking down a path of children in a prison yard. Is this our idea of freedom? Is it really freedom when we don’t want to be on the streets in the evenings and we have open carry everywhere? It’s intimidating and it’s unnecessary and I fully disagree with ‘An armed society is a polite society.’ It is an affront.”

Political civil war

According to Paradis, who noted that he helped lead the successful 2013 recall effort against Senator John Morse for his role in passing three gun control bills, “it looks like this year’s going to be more the battle of keeping our rights than it is of really building business — because you don’t know where your business is going to be until after they’re done with making the laws.

“We’re setting up for a political civil war this year,” he added. “What’s that going to do to sales? That depends on the rhetoric. I try to calm people down and say ‘Look, they haven’t really written any law. There isn’t really anything in the House or the Senate in both Colorado or the Capitol so before you start screaming, let’s see what they’re trying to do, and then we’ve got something to fight.’ But just to go around spouting off things is not helping anything.

“To me, I see a lot of my time and money is going to be invested in politics, more so than in business.”

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