By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH, DREW WINCHESTER and TOM CHANG STAFF WRITERS
Two days after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., people flocked to a North Port pawn shop to buy the same guns used in the massacre. Kelly Watkins, owner of Paradise Jewelry & Pawn in North Port, also saw a spike in sales of people buying high-power weapons and ammunition.
“I had three cases filled with guns and one and a half are empty now,” he said. “People made a mad dash for them because they might not be able to get them in the future.”
Watkins, who is also a firearms instructor, said people reacted much differently after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook shooting — which left 20 children and six adults dead — from when a 25-year-old gunman opened fire in a crowded Colorado movie theater in July, killing 12 and wounding 58 others.
“It’s not a fear thing this time,” he said. “It’s all about the threat of a ban on AR-15 and other high-power rifles. Before people were buying guns for home protection, now it’s because of talks of a ban. In the past four years, I’ve seen an increase in women buying small guns.”
The demand for these weapons created price-gouging opportunities for some gun dealers throughout the nation, Watkins said.
“I’ve seen the price of a case of ammo for an AR-15 go from $300 to $1,000,” he said. “That’s $1 per bullet. People think they aren’t going to be able to get ammo for the high-power weapons and are willing to pay quadruple for it.”
Watkins, who teaches a gun-safety class at his shop once a month, says everyone who applies to buy a gun from his shop must pass a background check, including those who pawn them and want the gun back.
“Even having a misdemeanor charge for drugs in the past year or a domestic violence charge could prevent you from getting a gun or getting it back after you pawned it,” he said. “It’s a good way to take guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. About 40 percent of people who pawn their guns don’t come back for them. They say they can’t live without them or it’s a family heirloom, but they end up losing them.”
Steve Gardiner of American Firearms Training in Englewood said he saw AR-15s at a recent gun show that usually sell for $900 to $1,200, now priced at more than $2,000, and their magazines (usually $18 to $20), now $55.
Mario Anglero, owner of Pinnacle Firearms Training in Port Charlotte, said Sunday was his largest gun-concealment class. He works in gun sales with Point Blank Indoor Shooting Range.
“I don’t attribute the increase in activity from the events in Newtown,” Anglero said. “People are acting now because of the current activity from the government. Civilians hear what’s going on and they want to get their licenses.” Anglero said all the assault rifles at the store sold out, while regular firearms (like handguns) are selling, particularly the older ones.
“The same people who are buying are also signing up for classes,” said Anglero, adding he offers four classes every Sunday and Monday, and now is running 10 classes a day from Friday to Monday. “We’re seeing more couples.”
John Flick purchased his son his first gun, a Walther PK380 pistol, from Army Navy Guns in Port Charlotte on Thursday, not because of any fears about pending legislation from the Connecticut shooting, but because he had been asking for a gun for a long time.
Flick’s son, also named John, plans to join the Army or the Air Force when he graduates from college next year. Flick thought it was time he learned to shoot. A Connecticut native, Flick is originally from Monroe, a city near Newtown, where the shooting took place.
“With everything going on overseas, I just thought that he really needed some practice,” Flick added. “He’s got nine months before he leaves.”
Ryan Ingle, owner of Higher Power Outfitters in Punta Gorda, said sales have increased dramatically, with added AR-15 rifles, handguns and ammunition being sold. Concealed-weapons classes have ballooned at the store, going from 15 students to 60. “Not one of my guns has jumped off the shelf and shot anybody,” Ingle said.