Orlando massacre spurs a demand for guns in Charlotte and beyond

Gun sales in Charlotte

June is normally a slow month for gun sales in Charlotte. It was different Tuesday, when Hyatt Guns was filled with customers fearing further gun control in the wake of killings in Orlando.
Up Next
June is normally a slow month for gun sales in Charlotte. It was different Tuesday, when Hyatt Guns was filled with customers fearing further gun control in the wake of killings in Orlando.

Mid-June through mid-July is typically a slower period in terms of gun sales. Far removed from the busy Christmas and hunting seasons, it’s when Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, tries to take vacation.

But this week, the gun shop on Wilkinson Boulevard was bustling with customers. In the days after the worst mass shooting in American history, people were out buying handguns.

It’s difficult to talk about the business of gun sales after the kind of tragedy that took place at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. But as soon as tragedy strikes, and gun control starts to dominate political rhetoric, gun owners start thinking their access to firearms might be restricted, Hyatt said.

“It sort of pushes people’s purchasing decisions up when the politicians start talking about gun laws. It’s just human nature,” Hyatt said.

That’s why shares of publicly traded gun companies spiked the first day of trading after the June 12 massacre. Smith & Wesson closed up nearly 6.9 percent Monday afternoon, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. closed up almost 8.5 percent.

Following the shooting in Orlando, Fla., presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton called for tougher gun control legislation in the U.S., including outlawing assault weapons like the one used by the Orlando shooter – a .223 caliber semi-automatic AR-15-type rifle.

Experts say that kind of ban, similar to one in place for a decade starting in 1994, could provide another boost to the firearms industry.

“If the call becomes one of Clinton’s primary campaign positions, then we believe the fear may drive additional consumer demand,” analysts with BB&T Capital Markets said in a research note Monday.

Regulatory fear, the analysts said, is the No. 1 driver of consumer demand. The industry appears to have peaked over the past 18 months following a push for greater restrictions, they added, but a reintroduction of an assault weapons ban could drive additional sales growth for firearms makers.

The BB&T analysts say Sturm, Ruger & Co. could be the biggest beneficiary of heightened demand given the manufacturing capacity at its 220,000 square-foot plant in Mayodan, about 110 miles northeast of Charlotte.

While some Hyatt customers are buying assault rifles, people are mostly purchasing handguns for self-protection, Hyatt said.

“It’s a combination of things. People are buying guns because they’re afraid, (and) people are buying guns because they’re afraid that later they won’t be able to, or it will be much more difficult to,” Hyatt said.

Tim Erlich, a Gastonia resident, estimates he comes to Hyatt up to 30 times a year to buy ammo, guns and coins. He was in the store buying coins Tuesday afternoon, a day he noticed was unusually busy.

“The minute something happens, I see women a lot more here. Maybe they’re buying weapons for personal safety,” Erlich said.

Mecklenburg County’s demand for firearms historically has spiked following a mass shooting, just as it has in the rest of the U.S.

Right after Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., in late 2012, for example, newly re-elected President Barack Obama started developing policy proposals like a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. From 2012 to 2013, Mecklenburg County handgun purchase permits – which are required for all handgun sales – soared more than 41 percent, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

North Carolina is considered a partial point-of-contact state, meaning state officials handle firearms purchase permits and the FBI handles long gun background checks. Hyatt and other gun dealers say although background checks can’t eliminate all risk involved with gun ownership, thorough checks can significantly decrease that risk.

“I think if you went to every gun shop and interviewed the federal firearms licensees, they don’t want bad people to have guns. It’s devastating for the industry,” Hyatt said.

Roger Ayscue, a 24-year veteran of the Army and a manager at Hyatt Guns in Charlotte explains the difference in military assault weapons and the rifles available to the public today.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

Related stories from Charlotte Observer