By REID TUCKER
It only took about two weeks after President Obama unveiled a sweeping array of legislative and executive actions aimed at curbing gun-related violence for the effects to be felt at a local level.
For the most part, that means big businesses for firearms dealers. Independent gun stores in Walton County started to see dramatic increases in foot-traffic, even as prices for weapons and ammunition of all kinds steadily climbed. Then, ammunition shelves in the sporting goods sections of big-box stores like the DeFuniak Springs Walmart Supercenter similarly became all but barren as supplies dwindled nationwide.
In the opinion of Mark Griffin, owner of DeFuniak Springs’ Po’ Boys Guns & Ammo, the reason for the sudden run to stock up at gun stores is very simple. “The response (to the president’s gun control plan) has been extremely strong among people who do not want their rights taken away and also among those who want to protect their homes and the community,” he said. “People are scared they won’t be able to buy this stuff anymore and they are taking steps to prepare for the unavailability of certain firearms and ammunition.”
Griffin said he’s helped customers in the last two weeks that drove all the way from Pensacola or Tallahassee just to purchase the ammunition Po’ Boys began stocking a month or so ago. Already limited supplies from distributors and the higher-quality of some particular types Griffin sells means prices for handgun ammunition increased an average of $8 to $10 per box, while rifle ammunition, particularly so-called “tactical loads” like the 5.56 millimeter rounds chambered by AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, is now all but unattainable. Nevertheless, the people kept coming, he said.
“When people are willing drive to DeFuniak from 100 miles away or more just to buy a box of ammunition that speaks for itself” Griffin said.
At least partially contributing to the unavailability of commercial ammunition was a massive purchase by the Department of Homeland Security for use at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia. In a 91-page procurement document issued last July, and an open bid on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the Department indicated interest in purchasing approximately 175 million rounds of .223 rifle ammunition (effectively identical to the 5.56 x 45mm cartridge used as the primary service round of NATO member nations including the United States). The department also has on order nearly half a million rounds of 12-gauge shotgun ammunition and millions of rounds of ammunition in various semi-auto handgun calibers including 9mm, .45 ACP, .357 Sig, .380 plus 450 million rounds of .40 S&W alone.
Lothar Newsome, owner of Enforcement Firearms, which just opened last October, said business at his store is booming as well, with 5.56mm and .22-caliber rifle ammunition completely sold out for the time being, and 9mm handgun bullets are beginning to follow closely behind. Additionally, he said many customers have also enrolled in the concealed weapons courses Enforcement Firearms offers, with demand for the classes often surpassing capacity. Newsome said President Obama’s proposals, which include universal expansion of gun registration practices to include all firearms sales, even those between private individuals (as well as the “gun show loophole”), don’t stand out to him as being bad for the bottom line.
“Business has been great so far and I don’t see that changing,” Newsome said. “We’ve been well-received by the community. [The president’s proposals] don’t keep me up at night at all. I think things will be basically the same as they are now but it will just be busier. It’s probably going to keep increasing business.” Enforcement Firearms, like many other gun stores throughout the nation, offers consignment services to customers in which the dealer handles all the background check paperwork and finds a buyer in the customer’s stead. Newsome said that if the expanded gun control measures go forward his consignment sales will probably go up too, though there may be new particulars as far as implementation is concerned, as gun registration is handled by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That said, Newsom is in favor of expanded record-keeping when it comes to gun sales, as logging serial numbers when guns change hands actually safeguards the consumer in the event that a used firearm was used to commit a crime, for instance.
However, there are aspects of the president’s proposals that Newsome definitely does not support. An avid shooting enthusiast, Newsome opposes reinstating the assault weapon ban, which was on the books from 1994 to 2004. While he sees no need for heavy artillery like missile launchers or landmines to be in civilian hands, Newsome said rifles, even semi-automatic versions of military-style AR-15s, ought to be fair game.
“I particularly don’t like someone telling us we can’t have a certain type of weapon,” Newsome said. “I’ve loved firearms every since I was a child and shooting has been a real passion of mine. I don’t see why responsible, law-abiding citizens should be limited as to what kinds of guns we can purchase, within reason of course. When the Constitution was written, the American colonists had the same kind of rifles in their homes that the British army had, so I don’t know what’s that different about our situation today.”
Even Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson weighed in on the controversy surround the president’s proposals. Adkinson issued a brief statement on Jan. 24 in which he declared that, as the chief law enforcement officer of the county, he would “not support any attempt to circumvent the Constitution of the United States by executive order or unlawful legislation.” He then addressed the new gun control measures at a Walton County Tea Party Patriots meeting, where he reiterated that Florida state laws provide that the office of sheriff is directly responsible to the people of the county, not to any federal agency.
“Neither my office nor my deputies are subservient to or will submit to any unlawful attack on the constitutional rights of the citizens of Walton County,” Adkinson said at the meeting. “I do not work for the president. I work for the men and women [of this county].” Adkinson, who was not available for further comment at press time, fielded questions from the audience regarding the potential ramifications of the new gun control policies, should the president pass them via executive order. Adkinson said he will never direct his officers, for example, to confiscate a firearm from a law-abiding citizen, and further that he would “have to be removed from office” before he would “break his constitutional oath” to the people of the county. He said any action from a federal agency or branch of the military that retroactively makes certain weapons illegal and subject to confiscation is, in his view, a fundamental breach of Constitutional rights and one in which the WCSO will not participate.
Speaking in reference to last December’s mass-shooting in Newtown, Conn., the sheriff said the event, while tragic, did not justify an infringement on constitutional liberties like the Second or Tenth Amendment. While on the subject of greater security for the county’s schools, Adkinson said his office would make use of a half-million dollars in seized criminal assets to cover the cost of fielding armed resource officers in Walton’s elementary schools.
While Adkinson personally disagreed with many aspects of the president’s proposals, he told the audience at the meeting that he would nevertheless uphold any law that passed “constitutional muster,” that is, one that involved a legal alteration of the Constitution.
“If it’s a constitutionally viable law, whether I like it or not I will enforce it,” he said. “If they change the Constitution then that is the law and we would (have to) abide by that law. But I’ll be honest; I don’t think it’s going to be able to happen.”