Gun sales surged across the country during the holidays.
The FBI reported a record number of National Instant Criminal background checks in 2012, according to numbers released last week.
“NICS verifies whether you are authorized to purchase a gun. They check for criminal records. If your name shows clear, they give you the authorization,” said Matt Betros, owner of Aaron’s Gun Shop in Cameron.
The FBI ran 19.5 million checks in 2012, a nearly 20 percent increase from the previous record of 16.5 million set in 2011.
December set a record for an individual month, with 2.8 million checks, about 800,000 more than the previous record set in December 2011.
The national trend was mirrored at local gun stores.
“We had the election. Christmas always picks things up. Then you had the school shooting. Then we had Obama and his administration rhetoric (about gun control). All of that combined to make the perfect storm” for gun sales, said David Cheadle, store manager at Guns Galore in Killeen.
Cheadle said he sold guns at a record pace between Black Friday and the end of the year. He said the average day in that period was four to five times busier than what he would normally call a busy day.
Cheadle said the Bushmaster AR-15 has been particularly popular.
The weapon was used in the recent shootings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and the fatal shootings of two firefighters in New York.
“We are completely sold out of the entire AR platform, including magazines,” Cheadle said Dec. 26.
Out of stock
As of Friday, Cheadle said the AR-15 was still out of stock.
Cheadle said he was happy with the extra business, but he wouldn’t mind if things went back to normal.
The wait time to do an National Instant Criminal background check was several hours, and he said his wife had recently done 40 in one day. He said 10 NICS checks normally constitute a busy day.
Cheadle said the FBI’s system was so busy during the holiday season it was tough to get a call to go through without getting an “all circuits busy” message.
Johnny Wade, owner of high-end sporting supply store Nocked & Loaded in Lampasas, also reported selling AR-15s as fast as he could stock them during the holiday season.
“It’s frenzy buying,” Wade said just after Christmas. “We are out of everything we had. We had some residual orders show up, and people snapped them up.”
Wade said the idea that AR-15s and magazines that house more than 30 bullets could become outlawed sent a lot of people to his store. He said the lack of inventory available for the AR platform rifles is helping drive sales.
“Those that have been riding the fence for a long time scrambled to go and get one,” he said. “Because they are in short supply, everybody wants one. With a deeper inventory, there probably wouldn’t be this level of frenzy buying.”
In Cameron, Betros said the increased interest in guns is due to the national push for more gun control.
“Because of the threat to take away your second amendment rights, people want to ensure they get something before these Draconian laws come into effect,” he said. “The second amendment says it shall not be infringed, and they’re infringing upon it.”
Record gun sales are bringing more business to other sectors as well.
Lloyd Leppo Jr. has been a concealed-carry firearms instructor in Bell County for 18 years. He said he has not been this busy since the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
“I do not have an opening in any of my classes until April,” he said.
Although he refuses to participate in price gouging, Leppo said people offered him up to $500 to get a place in one of his booked courses, which usually runs $140.
“That is what people are willing to pay,” he said.
As of Friday, Cheadle said business had returned to what he would consider “normal busy,” or 10 background checks per day. He is getting through to the FBI with ease.
He said he expects some AR-15s to “trickle through” his inventory, but he said price gouging has become a problem.
A distributor recently tried to sell Cheadle an AR-15 for $1,500 — a gun he would normally sell at his store for $1,000.
“It is good to get back to normal,” Cheadle said. “Until the next time a politician says something about guns.”
Larry Causey with FME News Service contributed to this report.