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Assault rifles in demand after school shooting

Assault rifles are hot items as fears of federal ban rise
Times Union
Updated 12:00 pm, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

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  • Sign outside of Taylor & Vadney Sporting Goods Store on Tuesday Dec. 18, 2012 in Rotterdam, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren / Times Union) Photo: Lori Van Buren
    Sign outside of Taylor & Vadney Sporting Goods Store on Tuesday Dec. 18, 2012 in Rotterdam, N.Y. (Lori Van Buren / Times Union) Photo: Lori Van Buren

 

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Check, please

Background checks in New York state on handgun, rifle and shotgun sales.

YEAR NUMBER OF CHECKS

2012 290,299

2011 271,837

2010 241,495

2009 241,165

2008 221,920

2007 212,174

2006 199,015

2005 158,781

2004* 160,222

* Federal assault rifle sale ban expired September

SOURCE: Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Instant Criminal Background Check System

 

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ROTTERDAM — Pat Popolizio picked up the phone Tuesday behind the firearms counter at Taylor & Vadney. "Yeah, I got tacticals," he told the caller.

Tacticals is shorthand for military-style semiautomatic assault rifles, and since last week's horrific Connecticut school shooting, more people are looking to buy the weapons, fearful that the government could move to ban them, Popolizio said.

A banner advertising "Home Defense Headquarters," with "Now in Stock" accompanying a silhouette of an AR-15 assault rifle, was displayed in front of the store. The type includes the Bushmaster .223, the weapon used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown school shooting.

The massacre thrust the politically divisive issue of gun control back into national prominence as a shocked nation tries to make sense of the deaths of 20 children and six adults.

President Barack Obama wants to revisit an assault rifle ban that expired in 2004, and Democrats vow to introduce stricter laws, while Republicans and the pro-gun lobby have largely tried to remain low-profile.

However, on Tuesday the National Rifle Association of America issued a statement saying it is "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," with details to be discussed at a Friday news conference.

Cerberus Capital Management, a private-equity giant that bought Bushmaster, which is manufactured in the Herkimer County village of Ilion, said it is selling the company, which it acquired in 2006. Cerberus later added another 10 makers of firearms, ammunition and accessories to form a company called Freedom Group.

"It is apparent that the Sandy Hook tragedy was a watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level," Cerberus said in a statement.

New York's state retirement fund holds stock in Cerberus. "In the aftermath of Friday's events, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has instructed his staff to review the Common Retirement Fund's investments in firearm manufacturers," said a spokesman. "As investors, we support Cerberus Capital Management for taking action today to sell its stake in the Freedom Group."

Retail chains began pulling back from some gun sales. Dick's Sporting Goods temporarily halted the sale of "modern sporting rifles" in all its stores, and removed all guns from its location closest to Newtown. At the Dick's store in Crossgates Mall, the gun counter appeared closed and unstaffed Tuesday afternoon, although the inventory on display appeared to be traditional shotguns and hunting rifles rather than tactical weapons.

Another sporting goods chain, Cabela's, pulled the Bushmaster from its Connecticut store, according to the company's website.

Along with the now-expired assault rifle ban, President Bill Clinton pushed through the Brady bill in 1993, which required instant background checks be done over the telephone by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on prospective gun buyers before sales occurred.

The number of background checks being done on New York gun sales has been steadily rising during the last decade.

Through November, the FBI ran more than 290,000 such checks, up more than 30 percent since 2008, the year before Obama took office.

In 2000, the year after semiautomatic weapons were used by students in a school shooting in Columbine, Colo., there were about 164,000 background checks done on New Yorkers who wanted to buy weapons.

Under the law, sales are prohibited when a background check shows a potential buyer meets criteria, including:

• Conviction of a crime punishable by a prison term of one year or more.

• Being a fugitive from a felony or misdemeanor warrant.

• Being a "user or addict" of a controlled substance.

• Having been found by a court to be "mentally defective," having been involuntarily committed to a hospital or found to be incompetent to handle one's own affairs.

• Being an illegal immigrant.

• Having been dishonorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces.

At Taylor & Vadney, Popolizio sometimes refuses to sell weapons to people of whom he is suspicious regardless of the results of the background check, he said. "If someone doesn't seem to know much about it, or asks a lot of stupid questions, then I won't make the sale," he said.

Popolizio, who bought the sporting goods store from his uncle five years ago, said, "What happened is a tragedy; my heart goes out to the family. In that case, if there had been a firearm in the right hands, a guard or a teacher, things might have turned out differently, don't you think?"

During a visit by a reporter to the store, Popolizio asked that his customers not be interviewed. But he said that since last week he has gotten more inquires from people who want to buy assault rifles.

"My customers are a little nervous that the government may confiscate weapons from law-abiding citizens," he said.

He said many customers have been convinced since Obama's election in 2008 that the federal government would be coming for their guns.

Later Tuesday, Popolizio called the Times Union to report that he had removed the sign in front of his store "out of respect" for the shooting victims.

"And I am taking all my ARs off the shelf," he added. "Please let people know."

bnearing@timesunion.com • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10