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Fewer gun buyers seen in US mass shooting states

By Eileen Sullivan

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 7 2013 12:58 p.m. MST

Adam Henderson shops for a rifle at Guns and Leather, a firearms store and shooting range, in Greenbrier, Tenn. in 2009.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — People who lived in the two states that saw the most deadly U.S. mass shootings in 2012 were less enthusiastic about buying new guns at the end of the year than those in most other states, according to an Associated Press analysis of new FBI data.

The latest government figures also reflect huge increases across the U.S. in the number of background checks for gun sales and permits to carry guns at the end of the year. After President Barack Obama's re-election in November, the school shooting in Connecticut last month and Obama's promise to support new laws aimed at curbing gun violence, the number of background checks spiked, especially in the South and West. In Georgia, the FBI processed 37,586 requests during October and 78,998 requests in December; Alabama went from 32,850 to 80,576 during the same period.

Nationally, there were nearly twice as many more background checks for firearms between November and December than during the same time period one year ago.

Background checks typically spike during the holiday shopping season, and some of the increases in the most recent FBI numbers can be attributed to that. But the number of background checks also tends to increase after mass shootings, when gun enthusiasts fear restrictive measures are imminent.

"It's a fear there will be a crackdown," said Thomas Wright, who runs Hoover Tactical Firearms near Birmingham, Ala. Wright said he took on more employees to handle the sales crush after 20 young students were shot to death in Newtown, Conn. "We used to have what was called our wall of guns. It's pretty much empty now." Every high-capacity magazine in his store was sold out.

The government's figures suggested far less interest in purchasing guns late in the year in Connecticut and Colorado, where 12 people were shot to death in a movie theater. Background checks in those two states increased but not nearly as much as in most other states. The numbers of checks in Colorado rose from 35,009 in October to 53,453 in December; checks in Connecticut went from 18,761 to 29,246 during the same period. Only New Jersey and Maryland showed smaller increases than Colorado in December from one month earlier.

In Connecticut, people were having second thoughts about whether it's a good idea to have a gun in the home after the Newtown shooting, the governor's criminal justice adviser, Michael Lawlor, said. The gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, first shot and killed his mother at their home using weapons she had legally purchased before he drove to the school. Lanza shot his way into the building and carried out the massacre before killing himself as police arrived.

Lawlor also said that in Connecticut it can take months to obtain a permit to buy a handgun.

A federal background check doesn't always indicate a new gun is purchased, but the firearms industry uses these numbers as an indicator of how well the gun business is doing.

After the Colorado shootings, the FBI conducted 1.5 million background checks across the country in August, compared with 1.2 million checks in June. Yet the Connecticut shootings energized gun buyers more: Background checks surged in December to nearly 2.8 million, compared with 1.6 million in October.

Even before the Colorado and Connecticut shootings, the gun industry was strong. Sales were on the rise — so much that some manufacturers couldn't make guns fast enough. Major gun company stocks were up, and the number of federally licensed retail gun dealers was increasing for the first time in 20 years.

Many attributed the surge to Obama, whom the gun lobby predicted would be the most anti-gun president in American history.

After the Colorado shooting, during the final months of the presidential campaign, Obama spoke out against assault-style weapons but did not push for new gun laws. Just days after the Connecticut shootings, Obama said new gun laws would be a top priority.

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