Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Gun sales up amid talk of stricter laws

Stores are seeing big jumps in purchases of semi-automatic, assault-style weapons

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


The rush to purchase weapons on Oahu reached new levels this past week as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders stepped up talks about stricter regulations in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., grade school shooting that took the lives of 26 children and adults.

Gun shop owners reported big sales bumps, particularly in the area of assault-style, semi-automatic weapons, while the line to register guns at HPD headquarters on Friday wrapped halfway around the building by the time HPD employees arrived for work at 7:30 a.m.

The past week's developments put into overdrive what has already been a record-breaking year for gun registrations on Oahu.

HPD Capt. Andrew Lum confirmed that through Nov. 30, HPD had registered 23,643 new handguns and long arms. With a month to spare, that figure broke the record 23,443 guns registered in 2011.

A surge in gun sales occurred after Obama's re-election on Nov. 6 as many worried that the Democrat's return to the White House would signal a push for stricter gun laws.

HPD had earlier reported that at the end of October, there had been 20,991 guns registered for the year, meaning a staggering 2,652 new guns were approved in November alone. A sign on the front door of HPD's Records and Identification Division put up on Nov. 26 warned people that they should not expect service if they arrive after 3 p.m., 90 minutes before closing time, and see a long line.

That was before Newtown.

By Friday, people were starting to line up as early as 3 a.m. at the Records and Identification Division.

On Friday, at OGC Tactical in Kalihi, managing member Carter Berlin said the number of people gathering in his shop "got a little ridiculous" during the week, especially after Obama held a Washington news conference on Wednesday to announce the formation of a task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden to come up with stricter gun law proposals.

Sales of AR-15s went up an estimated tenfold from Wednesday through Friday, Berlin said. His stock of those weapons went from 140 at the beginning of the week to four late Friday, and he was showing two of them to potential customers when the Star-Advertiser reached him by telephone.

A good number of those making the purchases are first-time buyers, he said.

"We have people coming in saying, ‘I always wanted to get one, so I will buy one now while I still have a chance.'"

X-Ring Security & Firearms in Waipahu was also bustling. Store manager Brian Takaba said gun sales are up four to five times this week. Most people are buying assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, among the list of items mentioned as targets for federal bans.

Takaba said gun manufacturers on the mainland are no longer taking new orders and that the last time he received any new guns was more than a month ago.

"Supply is nearly non­existent," he said. "All the wholesalers where we order our products from are basically shut down. They have enough backorder to last them well into next year."

Ewa Beach resident Roland Antonio, 64, was at the shop picking up an AK-47 for about $1,200. He estimated it would probably have cost him $800 to buy the same gun last week. The Vietnam veteran said he wanted to add the gun to his collection, which consists mainly of hunting rifles, largely for nostalgic purposes since he used such a weapon during the war.

"I wouldn't take this for hunting," he said of the AK-47. He said he will take it to the range for target shooting to challenge himself, "to see if you're as good as you think you are."

Accompanying Antonio was friend Felix Tan, 43, also of Ewa Beach. Tan said he owns several handguns and rifles, but is looking at purchasing an assault-type weapon "because they're the ones that might be banned. The others are going to be around."

Tan said he intends to buy one "as soon as I get my paycheck," assuming X-Ring or another store still has one available. He said he does not own guns for security reasons, but strictly for leisure.

He wants an assault weapon because "it's a preference — I like the feel of it," he said. "Plus, it looks nice."

Tan takes two of his children, ages 13 and 11, to the Koko Crater shooting range but is very strict about locking up the guns at home when they are not in use.

Takaba said he doesn't think a change in gun laws would have prevented the Newtown killings. Proposals to change the federal law to require gun owners be at least 21 years old, banning fully automatic assault rifles and requiring mental health checks for people who want to buy guns are all already in place at the state level in Connecticut, he said.

In Hawaii, gun owners must also be 21 and be cleared by a physician for mental health issues. But while there is a ban on fully automatic assault rifles, semi-automatic assault weapons are allowed. Semi-automatic weapons load automatically, but only one bullet is fired per trigger pull.

Takaba said one thing that could have prevented the Newtown shootings is a law requiring guns be stored in safes or other types of secured enclosures.

"Guns in your closet and under your bed? Anybody can just break into your house and steal them," he said, noting that he recommends to his customers that all weapons be locked away.

At Honolulu Firearms and Range on Queen Street, administrator Cameron Cortez said his staff is reporting a fivefold increase in sales. Practically every gun sold last week had been an assault-style, semi-automatic weapon, he said.

The AR-15s, the most popular of the weapons the store sells, are going for between $1,000 and $3,000, he said. "We're trying to keep (prices) at (manufacturer suggested retail prices) for now," he said.

Cortez would not say exactly how many assault weapons he has left, but said while "it is depleting rapidly," there will likely be enough to last through the end of business today, the last day the shop is open before Christmas.

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