Gun sales on the increase in Jackson County

Gun sales have been hitting all-time highs this holiday season in Jackson County and Oregon, propelled by fears that President-elect Barack Obama's administration will enact laws clamping down on assault rifles and ammunition.

The Oregon State Police reports that on Nov. 28 — the biggest shopping day of the year known as Black Friday — there were 2,198 background checks, 25 percent higher than the previous record on the same shopping day in 2005, when 1,731 checks were conducted.

"It was unanticipated to be that high," said Marie Severson, firearms manager for the OSP.

In addition, during the month of November, 720 checks on average were conducted daily throughout the state, an increase from a year ago when 437 checks were conducted on average in the same month. About two percent of the background checks turn up disqualifying information such as felony convictions, misdemeanor assault convictions, being an illegal alien or renouncing U.S. citizenship.

Gun stores in Jackson County report brisk business as customers snap up so-called assault rifles, such as the popular AR-15, as fast as they can be put on the shelf. At the same time, the price of some weapons has climbed 30 percent or more, and ammunition has gone through the roof. Twenty rounds for the new .50-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver could set you back more than $40.

"The prices have gone up — way up on assault rifles," said Peter Schulzke, owner of Southern Oregon Pawn in Medford. He said he had six AR-15s a month ago but is sold out, though he had two AK-47s on the shelf Friday.

Gun sales at local stores spiked after the presidential election. On Obama's Web site,, he states that he would support making the expired federal assault weapons ban permanent.

Schulzke said he's heard of people who have bought AR-15s for around $700, then turned around and sold them at gun shows for $1,200 to $1,400.

A critical component of the AR-15 — known as the lower receiver — has been selling briskly, because it can be assembled with other parts to create the complete rifle at some future time.

Many customers are buying the assault rifles as an investment and shelling out the money despite a downturn in the economy.

"I think people are afraid," said Glenn Davis, who owns two AR-15s and was browsing the weapons on display at Southern Oregon Pawn Friday.

The 45-year-old Grants Pass resident said people are rushing to buy assault weapons and ammunition because they believe the Obama administration is going to enact gun laws similar to the ones passed by President Bill Clinton in 1994.

Davis and his friend, Greg Brauer, said it is important to stock up now on weapons before they are taken off the shelves.

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," said 53-year-old Brauer, of Grants Pass.

Brauer said ammunition has become so expensive he is using his .22-caliber rifle rather than his .223 caliber. He said it costs about $15 for 1,000 rounds of the lower-caliber weapon, versus $20 to $30 for the higher-caliber model.

While many gun owners are worried about bans on assault weapons, Ralph Groover said Obama's got too many other problems, such as the economy and the wars.

"I'm a skeptic," said the 61-year-old Medford resident. "He's got way too much on his plate."

A Vietnam veteran, Groover called the AK-47 and most of the assault-type rifles "impractical." He said he carried an M-16 as a soldier, but doesn't understand why anyone would want a similar-type rifle.

Still, he said, "I enjoy the Second Amendment as much as anyone."

Brandon Schulzke, who works at Southern Oregon Pawn, does like the assault-type guns and had a quick response to Groover's comments: "It's fun to shoot — just like I need a big-block engine."

John Hughes, president of the Medford Rifle and Pistol Club, said he understands the fears that have stimulated gun sales recently.

However, he's concerned that in these tough economic times residents are buying the guns on credit they might not be able to afford.

"If you can afford it, that's fine," he said.

Hughes said he objects to calling weapons like the AR-15 an "assault weapon."

He said rifles, AR-15s in particular, are excellent for target practice because of their accuracy and reliability.

"They want to call it an assault rifle and it is not," said Hughes.

Gun sales typically pick up around the holidays in Oregon and increased sales should continue through the month.

"It does reach a grand crescendo by Christmas," said Marie Severson of the OSP.

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