As Obama Expands Gun Control, Florida Firearm Sales Hit Record

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Bob Renault, 59, owns RRPSI Firearms, a small gun shop in Boynton Beach. He says a panic seems to have washed over his customers as of late — they appear to be stocking up on weapons. He says he’s seen them like this only once before: after the December 2012 murder of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

“After Sandy Hook, it was to the point that they didn’t care what you had,” he says. “We’re a mom-and-pop shop, and we try to fit our customers’ needs, match them with the right firearm and all. But it was to the point where they didn’t care. Whatever you had, they’d walk in and take two of them.” It’s like this again, he says. “It’s sad.”

Across Florida, a record number of guns were sold in December, mirroring trends across the country. Since two gunmen killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, gun sales have skyrocketed, largely out of fear that stricter gun control measures were on the horizon. This time, buyers’ fears were, in some ways, right: President Obama officially announced Monday that he will, through executive action, institute a series of modest gun-control reforms this week.

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, 137,941 applications were filed for firearm background checks in December alone, the highest monthly total since 2004, the earliest year for which the department could provide statistics.

Though the number of background checks does not necessarily match the exact number of guns sold (and may actually undercount them, because multiple weapons can be bought after filling out a single background check), the number tops Florida’s previous monthly record of 131,103, set in December 2012, immediately following the Sandy Hook massacre. The state set a yearly record in 2015 as well, with 885,086 checks.

As of 2013, Broward and Palm Beach counties had the second- and third-highest number of people with concealed weapons permits in the state — 84,190 and 68,804, respectively. Miami-Dade had the highest.

Yesterday, the White House said President Obama will force more firearm salesmen, especially those at gun shows or online, to apply for licenses and conduct background checks on potential buyers. The reforms, the White House said, will help close the famed “gun show loophole,” which allows “private” vendors to sell weapons without conducting background checks. This is due to a clause in the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandates background checks nationwide except for "private sellers."

The White House also said the FBI will “overhaul” its background-check reporting system and hire 230 additional staffers to help process background checks. Likewise, the president will set aside funding in his 2017 budget to hire 200 new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives dealers and proposes investing $500 million in mental health care.

Over the first few days in January, though, background checks in Florida continued to spike as rumors have swirled around exactly what the president was planning to do about gun control. In Broward and Palm Beach, virtually all of the gun shop owners New Times spoke to said their sales had been skyrocketing.

Renault, for example, said that yesterday alone, his shop made a third of its monthly sales total.

“People are scared,” he says. “The government is screaming ‘gun control,’ and it just makes the fear worse.” Renault also teaches concealed-carry classes at his shop — after the San Bernardino shootings, he said, his shop began to teach the course every week, up from every two weeks. “We’re still 50 percent overbooked,” he said, adding that he’s sold 50 Ruger LCP handguns — a small gun used typically for self-defense — since last Monday, which has surprised him. He said his customers seem to fear terrorism more than they do gun laws, but he said the president's rhetoric didn't seem to help.

"Obama has been the best thing for gun sales since he got elected," Renault says. "He took people who would never be gun owners and turned them into gun owners. It's the exact opposite as to what he says he wanted to do."

Tim Landon, a salesperson at Action Firearms in Fort Lauderdale, says the shop sold twice as many guns as usual in the past month, many of them handguns.

“This store has been packed all day long,” Landon adds. “A lot of people, more elderly folks than young, are coming in trying to buy their first-ever gun. I’ve actually heard customers say, ‘I’ve never had a gun before, but it’s time to own one.’”

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