Local firearms sales ‘through the roof,’ dealers say

MARSHALL – In anticipation of increased regulations of firearms, and a possible assault rifle ban following the tragedy at Sandy Hook School, sales of all kinds of guns and accessories have dramatically increased both locally and nationwide.

According to Nadine Vierstraete, technical assistant with the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center, applications for handgun permits and concealed carry permits have increased lately.

“We have them come in daily now, and we didn’t before,” Vierstraete said.

All handgun purchases require a permit to buy and a background check, according to Vierstraete. A permit to carry requires the purchaser to attend a firearms training class.

A permit is not required to purchase a rifle or shotgun, but the dealer is required to conduct a background check.

“We do background checks on everyone who comes in wanting to buy,” said Brent Kesteloot, owner of Xcaliber Gunsmithing in Cottonwood. “No exceptions.”

Though sales of all kinds of firearms are up, the demand for assault rifles is particularly high. “Assault rifle” is a term generally understood to mean a semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity magazine and a military appearance, as opposed to a semi-automatic hunting rifle with a traditional wooden stock. The most popular rifles of this kind are the AR-15 configuration, based on the U.S. military rifle, and the AK-47 style of the former Soviet bloc.

“As far as the AR-15s or ‘assault rifle,’ we’re out,” said Chad Wyffels, owner of Borch’s Sporting Goods. “Sales have been good. We have some on order, but I have no idea when they’ll be delivered because of the demand. Everybody wants them.”

For Borch’s, firearms are a relatively small part of its sporting goods inventory. At dedicated firearms dealerships the phrase most often used to describe sales is “through the roof.”

Kesteloot sells guns, ammunition and accessories to a clientele that includes hunters, target shooters, people concerned about self-defense and law enforcement officers purchasing a service weapon or a personal off-duty weapon.

“We sold out in two weeks,” Kesteloot said. “I could sell every one for the next two months. Sales increased quite a bit after the election and increased dramatically since Sandy Hook. Everybody seems to be of the opinion they’ll be grandfathered in after a ban.”

Justin Richards, owner of Barrels and Arrows outside of Marshall, has also seen an increase in sales and an increase in enrollment in permit-to-carry classes.

“Long gun sales have been through the roof as well as high capacity magazines,” Richards said. “AKs and AR-15s are selling very well, and we can’t keep an AK more than 24 hours. Of course, anything semi-automatic is an ‘assault rifle.’ People say they’re not for hunting, but the AR-15 is the most popular rifle for varmint hunting, coyotes and prairie dogs. They’re also popular for the NRA high-power competition shooting and three-gun matches.”

Richards said the permit-to-carry classes at his store used to average three to four people per class.

“This weekend we have 17-19 enrolled,” Richards said.

Kjergaard Sports outside of Lake Benton has the largest selection of firearms in the area.

“After the election, business was twice what it was last summer,” said owner Steve Kjergaard. “Then after that terrible shooting, we’re selling 10 times what we were. Just the AR-15 sells 70 per day and prices have doubled. More than 90 percent of them are used for hunting. They’re popular for deer where rifle is permitted, and down south they’re used for boar.”

Several dealers expressed concern about more restrictive legislation.

“We encourage everybody to join the NRA and take the fight to Capitol Hill,” Richards said.

However, the dealers were in favor of background checks, banning sales to people with criminal records and the mentally ill and closing some loopholes in the law.

“I don’t understand,” Kjergaard said. “When a drunk kills somebody with a vehicle, they blame the drunk. I never knew a rifle to get up in the morning, load itself and shoot somebody.”