Gun permits, sales skyrocket in Durham

Jan. 16, 2013 @ 05:36 PM

Permits to buy guns shot up 47 percent in Durham in the days after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., and weapons sales are following suit.

In the 27 days since the Dec. 14 killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office issued 127 gun permits – up from 86 in the comparable period last year and triple that of three years ago (41).

Meanwhile, business is so brisk at Durham gun shops that few managers have time to answer reporters’ questions.

“It’s very busy,” said a manager at Durham Gunsmithing on North Roxboro Street during a 30-second interview Tuesday. “I would say that sales are up 40 percent [in the past four weeks]. They’re buying everything. But I’ve got to run. I’ve got, like, 10 customers in front of me.”

At the Durham County Courthouse Wednesday, Durham resident Shawn Davis got the paperwork to buy his first pistol. Davis, who works in the auto industry, said every technician who works for him has a gun, and most are concealed. He thought it was time he got one, too.

Davis also wants a gun to protect his family. He has four girls, and plans to teach them how to use a pistol if the need arises.

“I want to have some type of protection, because right now, we don’t have anything,” he said. “We have a house alarm, and my dog is only three pounds. She barks a lot, but she ain’t going to bite anyone.”

Also at the gun permit office Wednesday was Deborah Sheets, who was picking up her concealed-gun license after completing an eight-hour gun safety class. She also had to be fingerprinted, photographed and pass medical and mental background checks. The entire process took about 45 days.

“I travel a lot, and if I’m driving across the country alone as a female and stopping at those rest stops, this provides another sense of security,” she said. Sheets said she’ll probably keep her pistol concealed in her truck most of the time “rather than on my person.”

She also likes having a gun for target practice. “It’s more of a hobby than anything,” she said.

Also getting his concealed-gun permit Wednesday was 46-year-old Mark Gibbons, who moved to Durham from Florida seven years ago.

“I’ve been around guns all my life,” Gibbons, a member of the National Rifle Association, said. “I’m very comfortable with it, and I understand the law.”

For Gibbons, having a gun is mainly for protection and emergencies.

“I’m not a diehard person who will carry it everyday,” he said. But because he travels often, he likes being able to take a concealed gun across state lines, and keep it out of view to discourage thieves.

One person who plans to buy a pistol in the next few days is Molly Morgan, who got her license to carry a concealed gun after undergoing a rigorous application process. The requirements to carry a concealed gun are different from getting a gun permit. They require a more extensive background check, including examination of the applicant’s medical records, and mandate that the applicant complete a class in gun safety and be fingerprinted and photographed.

But Morgan, whose father was a gunsmith in her home state of Michigan, said she grew up around guns and feels more comfortable being armed.

“I’ve been raised with guns,” she said. “My father used to have a range in our backyard and we would shoot on a regular basis.”

Morgan, whose husband is a Durham County sheriff’s deputy, said she’s handled a gun since age 3.

“I think that’s super-important,” she said. “We were taught at a very young age to always treat a weapon like it’s loaded, not to put your finger on the trigger unless you’re aiming to shoot, and never point a weapon at people or animals.”

She said it’s important “to know your target and what’s beyond it. My dad was very strict about when we could shoot and what we could shoot with,” she said. “He had to be there. It wasn’t just us kids going out and doing what we wanted to do.”

Morgan, who got her concealed-weapon license before the killings at Newtown, said her main reason for wanting a gun is peace of mind.

“The main thing is knowing that I can protect myself if I need to,” she said. “Not everybody is concerned with other people’s well-being.”

Until she buys her own pistol, Morgan has been carrying one of her husband’s guns most days – but not to gun-free zones like schools and banks.

“It makes me feel better that I can handle a situation if it occurs instead of having to wait for law enforcement,” she said. “I fully believe that law enforcement will be here, but I can’t carry them around with me everyday. So I feel much more prepared for a situation like that.”

Morgan believes that many gun law-reform advocates “don’t truly understand why we choose to carry them.”

“If we educate people on gun safety, then some of these accidents won’t happen,” she said. “And if we had the ability to carry guns at places where they aren’t allowed, then some of these tragedies might have been prevented.”

Morgan, who plans to join the National Rifle Association, comes from a family with strong ties to the gun-rights organization.

“People do use guns for bad things,” she said. “But there are regular people who carry pistols for their own protection. You never know when you could be a victim.”

Scott Elliott, who got a gun permit from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office last year, describes himself as a “recreational shooter” and gun collector.

Elliott, 38, is a graduate student at N.C. Central University studying social work, and said he enjoys practice shooting weekly at the Durham Pistol and Rifle Club in Mebane.

He’s owned guns for 15 years.

Elliott, a member of the NRA, opposes efforts to clamp down on gun purchases.

Instead, he favors “responsible legislation” that funds more mental health services and examines the causes of gun violence.

He doesn’t believe that outlawing high-capacity magazines – ammunition storage and feeding devices that hold multiple rounds – is the answer.

“I don’t think that will eliminate violence in school,” he said. “We should be looking at the socioeconomic factors, personal responsibility and the role of the family.”

Most shooters in recent mass killings “were sick and needed help,” he said. “Their needs were not addressed by their family or the community.”

Elliott favors strict laws against trafficking illegal weapons, and believes every gun applicant should undergo a background check.

He wants government to better address “our failed mental health system,” but also doesn’t want the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms infringed.

“It comes down to a matter of individual responsibility and accountability,” he said. “It’s about self-respect, and respect for others.”