Citizens arming themselves against possible gun control

Local guns shops can barely keep up with demand

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor 

Gun-shop-smArea sporting goods dealers are finding it hard to keep guns and ammunition in stock. Since December 2012, citizens have been buying products they may not be able to later, should gun control legislation make it illegal to do so.

In the 25 years he’s been in business, Tyrone Umlauf, owner of Shooting Sports in Little Falls has never been so busy. In December 2012, he showed record sales of auto-loading guns and handguns, also known as “semi-automatic” weapons.

So too, the demand for ammunition has been difficult to keep up with.

Walmart in Little Falls doesn’t carry auto-loading firearms, but has seen a stark increase in ammunition sales.

Paulette Pappenfus, owner of Pap’s Sporting Goods in Little Falls for the past 28 years, has had the same experience, with the sale of guns and especially with ammunition. Sales have tripled. Warehouses, she said, are unable to fill orders for ammunition.

Legislating the amount of ammunition or the size of a clip is a form of gun control in itself, said Pappenfus.

Iron Hills Gun and Pawn Shop owner Chet Nelson, said demand has increased 25 percent. While his shop in Little Falls doesn’t carry ammunition because it’s not a typical gun shop, people are buying guns from AR-15s to auto-loading handguns and guns with the capability of holding high capacity magazines.

“I can’t keep them on the shelf,” he said.

Every seller said the uptick started when the results of the General Election were known — as it did after the 2009 election — then exploded after the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School Elementary school Dec. 14, 2012, and the president and Congress began talking about limits on guns and capacity of magazine.

“About four or five days after the Connecticut shooting, the mass buying began,” said Umlauf. “It doubled and tripled. Not because of the shooting, but because of the talk about gun control.”

People are arming themselves for personal protection, especially in rural areas, he said.

Many people in rural Minnesota are avid hunters and some enjoy target shooting as a sport, as both Umlauf and Pappenfus can attest.

Ammunition, and quite a lot, is needed for both.

“I don’t carry a gun for myself,” said Umlauf. “I carry one for the safety of my wife and grandchildren.”

Pappenfus said she’s been around guns her entire life, hunting and target shooting, but has never hurt anyone with a gun.

“That the biggest fear is that I would ever have to make that choice,” she said. “But, if it’s a matter of your life or someone else’s?”

She said she’d rather have a canine next to her ready to attack, than to pull a gun.

Automatic-loading handguns and rifles such as the AR-15, which people call semi-automatic, are popular because they are considered reliable and have minimal recoil, said Chad Kleinschmidt.

Kleinschmidt owns Defensive Concepts, a business which offers classes for those wanting a permit to carry. That business has grown as well, as has the request for those classes held at Shooting Sports. Umlauf said he’s holding the classes twice a month due to the demand.

Many taking the course are women or husbands and wives taking the course together, mostly for personal protection.

Kleinschmidt said the volume of calls he was taking for training  have gone up considerably.

“Within two days of Sandy Hook, I was getting 25 calls day asking if I still did training and if people would be able to get permit to carry training. My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” he said.

“As soon as something like that happens, that’s the first time people start thinking, ‘What’s going to change?’ ‘What am I going to be able to do and what am I not going to be able to do?’” Kleinschmidt said.

They want to do it while they still can, because next week it might be illegal and they may not be able to, he said.

Applications increase in county for gun permits
Before purchasing a gun, a person must be 18 and apply for a permit to purchase it through either their local police department or sheriff’s department.

In Morrison County, the Sheriff’s Department takes care of most applications, because the Little Falls Police Department is the only city department in the county to take care of resident applications to purchase a firearm.

A permit to conceal and carry a weapon can only be obtained by applying through the Sheriff’s Department and certain criteria must be met.

Morrison County Sheriff Chief Deputy Tom Ploof said processing permits to purchase has been non-stop. Ploof goes through each application and said research takes the most time.

Once a person has filled out an application, Ploof’s department goes through that person’s criminal history.

“They can’t be a fugitive from justice; there is a Department of Human Services check to see if they’ve been declared mentally incompetent and an inhouse check,” said Ploof.

“The disqualifiers are basically a history of violent crimes and Department of Human Services stuff; lifetime bans —  like felonies that are violent crimes preclude anyone from owning a gun,” he said.

Ploof said in 2003, a new law required that they check back 10 years to Aug. 1, 1993, for violent crimes — most drug use falls under violent crime, he said.

Any drug use, even marijuana, precludes someone from getting a permit for two years, as required by the state attorney general’s office, he said.

Crimes that constitute a lifetime ban from owning a gun include felonies such as arson, assault, certain types of shootings, drive-by shootings and controlled substance crimes, said Ploof.

So far this year, Ploof said his office processed 110 permits to purchase. In January 2012, just 34 permits to purchase were processed.

Permits to purchase are free and no class is required.

“It’s becoming a big part of our day. It’s been non-stop,” he said. “People are definitely hitting the panic button.”

Ploof said no reason for purchasing a gun needs to be given and a permit is necessary if a gun is purchased from a dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL), which businesses that sell guns retail must have.

Ploof said guns sold from one person to another are not recorded. Ploof tells people to get a permit to purchase anyway or to ask for one from a person they are selling to.

“It doesn’t take long, doesn’t cost anything and puts everyone at ease,” he said.

In December 2012, Ploof said 26 carry permits were processed — in December 2011 one year earlier, just six were processed.

The Little Falls Police Department showed a decrease in permits to purchase. From December 2011 to January 2012, 30 permit requests were received and from December 2012 up until Wednesday, 26 had been received.

A permit to carry a gun in public (not needed for a gun kept in one’s home) can only be applied for by a person age 21 or older. The application is obtained through the Sheriff’s Department, costs $80 and is good for five years. Training by someone authorized to do so is required.

“No class was required even 10 years ago,”  Ploof said. “Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel required people to take a class to get a permit to carry before the law required it; but now the law requires it.”

The Police Department, Sheriff’s Department or even those giving the courses, can stop a person from getting a permit should red flags appear.

Law enforcement sees the flags in the background checks; the trainers in questions and attitudes of those taking the course.

“Ultimately, if you take the class from me or whoever certifies you — our name as an instructor is on your certificate,” said Kleinschmidt. “So if you walk out of here, get your carry permit and two months later shoot somebody,  I can guarantee you I’m going to get a phone call from law enforcement or chief administrator from that county. They’re going to have me provide a copy of your passing test, and they’re going to ask me if I remember you or any distinguishing things I can comment on when I had you in training.”

Gun safety education, training
Umlauf, Pappenfus, Kleinschmidt, Ploof and Wetzel all agree a person with a permit to carry, properly trained, is not considered a threat to public safety. It’s those who don’t have that permit and don’t have the training.

All agree that education and training are important for anyone who uses a gun,  may be around guns and even for those who aren’t.

“You can never have too much training or education, especially when it comes to a topic where there are certain inherent dangers, like handling a gun,” said Sheriff Wetzel. “I think it would be a wonderful idea if everyone was trained in the safe handling and use of their gun and what Minnesota laws say you can and cannot do with it.”

Wetzel said in his opinion, especially in rural Minnesota, “where practically everyone owns a gun, it should be almost compulsory” to train kids about guns.

“We teach them about drug abuse, sex education, safe driving. Almost all kids in this area have had firearms training, because we’re a hunting community; but there are many that haven’t,” he said.

Those who have guns in their home “especially” need to make sure their kids are well-educated and well-trained even if they’re too young to shoot, Wetzel said. “They need to know the danger and about safe handling,” he said.

Umlauf and Kleinschmidt agree that even those who don’t carry a gun would benefit from the classes if only to learn what kind of dangers there are and how to respond.

Umlauf, who raised his own son with a respect for guns from an early age, said education is definitely an area that needed to be looked at.

“We don’t educate our kids on the proper handling of guns unless we put them through firearms safety. I think it should be mandatory, since half of the households in the country have guns,” he said.

“Isn’t it just common sense that we have a gun safety program in school, so that when a child stumbles upon a gun it’s not something that they’re totally unfamiliar with?” he said.

“It’s kind of like cars. You’re going to drive a car sooner or later,” he said. “Sooner or later you’re going to be in the same room as a firearm at some point in your life,” he said. “Why not teach our kids the proper and safe way to handle a situation that may arise when they’re growing up; it’s common sense.”