Grampa's Gun Shop 2
State Journal archives

So the state has just passed the 100,000 concealed carry permit threshold. Does that mean people are buying more handguns?

You betcha. And then some.

Sure, a lot of the people applying for concealed carry permits already have guns. But the state Justice Department has seen record numbers of applications for background checks for gun buys, which hit 14,842 in February, the last month for which the agency supplied data. That’s more than double the 6,314 background checks in February 2011, which was up  from the 4,994 background checks in 2010.

The state’s new concealed carry law may account for some of that. But other factors are also boosting the thirst for firearms.

I called Pt Firearms in Cross Plains to see how business was going, and what I was told surprised me. An employee there, who asked that I not use his name, told me that the gun dealership has seen sales go up 20 to 25 percent over last year, and handguns are only part of the boom.

“If anything, I would say the rifle sales are a little bit more,” he says.

According to the FBI, applications for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which includes rifles –- the state system is only for handgun sales –- totaled a record of nearly 16.5 million in 2011, up 15 percent over 2010.

The last time the nation saw such a surge was in 2008, when the specter of an anti-gun Barack Obama presidency prompted a gun-buying spree and left ammo shelves empty.

Fears of an anti-gun regime were never borne out, but those fears are still being stoked. But more significant, says the Pt Firearms employee -– and news accounts suggest this is true elsewhere -– is the help gun sellers are getting from the entertainment industry.

Television shows like “Hot Shots,” “Red Jacket Firearms” and “Sons of Guns” are serving as powerful marketing tools for the gun industry.

“You’ve got a wider audience that is watching these shows, and people are coming in saying, ‘I want a gun like what I saw on the television program,’” says the employee.

He adds, “I haven’t heard too much about the political environment,” but “I think it’s a possible motivator.”

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What really caught my attention is the other part of the exploding gun market.

“You’ve got the 'Preppers' on National Geographic Channel,” he says. “People like that. You know, just being prepared for a catastrophe or some other sort of event.”

In other words, people with guns who take the Mayan calendar’s supposed end-of-the-world date of Dec. 21, 2012, seriously.

Really?

Really, he says. “Customers are saying that.”

Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.