Seven mass shootings rocked the nation in 2012, with the Dec. 14 tragedy in Newtown, Conn. being the second deadliest in United States history. These events have pushed gun issues to the forefront of the media and public attention.
Local gun retailers, like many across the nation, are reporting increases in gun and ammunition sales following the Connecticut shootings.
Gun retailers are reporting that customers are purchasing new weapons out of a fear of possible new gun control measures.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Anthony Gaynor
Phillips & Sons Pawn Shop owner Brian Phillips stands with a box of ammunition, which holds 1,000 rounds. He said sales of guns and ammunition have increased since the gun control debate has heated up in Washington, D.C.
Retailers including Wheeler's, P&M Outdoors and Phillips & Sons Pawnbrokers of Elkins are reporting a significant increase of gun and ammunition sales through the past two months.
Jim Wheeler, owner of one of the largest gun retailers in the area, said Wheeler's keeps an average of 1,400 guns in stock. However, more than 30 percent of his stock was sold in December and November. Wheeler said his best day of 2012 occurred in December when he sold 55 guns in one day.
Reuters is reporting that a record-setting 2.78 million background checks were performed in the United States during the month of December alone.
"It's been tremendous growth," Wheeler said, noting the increase has occurred with sales of both guns and ammunition.
"The day after the (November) elections things started picking up. They were good before (but) they started picking up. The day after the shooting (in Newtown, Conn.), unfortunately, it just went crazy," Wheeler said.
Pat Elza, owner of P&M Outdoors, said his business's gun sales greatly increased the day following President Barack Obama's re-election on Nov. 6.
"The day after the election (when) Obama got reelected it just blew through the roof," Elza said. "If Mitt Romney would have gotten to be the president I don't think this would have happened."
B. & J. Pawn & Sportshop employee Bill Reaser said, although there has been no significant rush to purchase guns at the store, he does think Obama has affected gun markets, due to the president's perceived support of gun control measures.
"There was a shortage (of ammunition) when President Obama came into office, when he was re-elected to office and after the recent shootings," Reaser said. "Obama is our best gun salesman."
Phillips & Sons Pawnbrokers in Elkins are reporting a significant increase in gun sales recently as well. Owner Brian Phillips said it has become tougher to find ammunition lately, including ammo for 9 mm, .45, .380 and .223 caliber guns.
The owners of Wheeler's, P&M Outdoors and Phillips & Sons agree that fear is causing many citizens to purchase firearms and/or ammunition.
"People are afraid that they're not going to be able to buy guns in the future," Wheeler said. "They're scared the future right now is hard to predict."
Although no legislative action has been taken to limit the sale of guns, Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has publicly announced plans to introduce a bill limiting the ownership of semi-assault weapons.
Feinstein's bill would closely resemble the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic firearms for civilian use.
On MSNBC's "Meet the Press" Dec. 16, Feinstein said the bill would work to limit the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons, along with high-capacity magazines.
Feinstein's and other politicians' words have clearly had an effect on consumers' minds and pocketbooks. Elza said P&M Outdoors has recently experienced a significant increase in the sale of assault rifles and high capacity magazines. He said he had just received some new semi-automatic weapons on Friday, but they would probably all be sold by the end of next week.
Wheeler said "assault rifles plus pistols" have been very popular in recent months, but he has seen an increase in all types of gun sales to people from all over the state.
"We had people coming from all over West Virginia and some from out-of-state," Wheeler added.
B & J Pawn & Sportshop and Phillips & Sons Pawnbrokers have also noticed a trend with less people willing to pawn guns.
"People are holding on to what they have," Phillips & Sons Pawnbrokers owner Brian Phillips said. "The threat of renewed bans on certain types of guns is certainly the reason."
Phillips said he does not feel gun control laws are the answer to preventing mass shootings.
"The fact is, if a guy is crazy and he wants to hurt someone, he is willing to do that with a gun, a knife, a car or a pencil," Phillips said. "Limiting his access to that gun will not stop him from doing what he wants to do. You cannot legislate someone's desire to hurt someone else."
Dave Gilbert, a B. & J. Pawn & Sportshop employee, offered advice to the public.
'With the current push in Washington, if you have thoughts of getting a concealed weapon permit, do it now," Gilbert said.