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Originally published Sunday, April 12, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Yakima-area gun sales rise on fears of weapon restrictions

Fueled by fears that President Obama might tighten firearms regulations, gun and ammunition sales reportedly are shooting through the roof.

Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA — Dick Strunk is buying bullets in bulk.

The gun enthusiast recently had to use both hands to heave a case of ammunition off the sales counter at Bestway Pawn Mart. It's 10 times his usual amount.

He's stocking up. These days, ammunition is expensive and sometimes hard to find.

"Our fear is, we're not going to be able to come here and buy," says Strunk, a 52-year-old agricultural equipment salesman from Yakima.

A sign taped to the glass display counter spells out the cause of his worry: GET YOUR GUN'S NOW BEFORE OBAMA DOES.

Fueled by fears that President Obama might tighten firearms regulations, gun and ammunition sales reportedly are shooting through the roof.

No single agency tracks all gun sales in individual counties. But local gun owners are having trouble finding bullets. Police clerks are struggling to keep up with applications to carry concealed weapons. And shops are selling stock faster than they can replace it.

"Especially assault weapons, they're just flying out the door," says Dianne Mabry, manager of Yakima's Bestway, a pawnshop. Her gun and ammo sales have nearly doubled since November, and customers are buying bullets in bulk.

So far, the Obama administration has taken no action on guns. However, policy statements posted on the White House Web site say his administration supports reinstating and making permanent a ban on assault weapons, as well as releasing some currently confidential law-enforcement data tracking gun ownership.

A House resolution proposed by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., would establish a federal system of licensing and sales records for certain firearms.

"They're trying to get rid of the American public having arms, as far as I'm concerned," Strunk says.

The reaction is being felt across the Yakima Valley and the country.

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Time Magazine reports that firearms sales in large retail outlets are up 39 percent this year. The magazine also reports that FBI background checks, which are required every time a federally licensed dealer sells a gun, between November and March rose 29.3 percent over the same period a year earlier.

Over the last several months, the Selah Police Department has struggled at times to resupply its ammunition. At the same time, Chief Stacy Dwarshuis has signed nearly triple the number of concealed-pistol licenses in the first three months of this year compared with the same period last year.

Dwarshuis talked to one man who recently purchased three guns — an assault rifle and two pistols — which are the first firearms he's ever owned.

"I thought that was kind of interesting," Dwarshuis says.

The Yakima County Sheriff's Office issued almost 1,000 concealed-pistol licenses to new license-holders in 2008, far and away the highest number in the past 10 years. This year is on pace to shatter that record.

Clerks at police departments and the Yakima County Sheriff's Office run criminal background checks on anyone applying for a concealed-pistol license, formerly called a concealed-weapons permit.

They don't ask why a person is applying, but many people tell them.

About nine out of 10 of the applicants who do give a reason at the sheriff's office cite concerns over Obama's gun policies, says Debbie Martin, records supervisor.

"They were frightened before the election and they were frightened after the election," Martin says.

The trend by itself doesn't worry police, says Capt. Greg Copeland of the Yakima Police Department, as long a people buy their guns legally.

"The people who buy guns legally and go through the proper steps ... usually are not the ones doing drive-bys, doing homicides," Copeland says.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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