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    Disquiet drives up gun sales

    Calls for background checks and requests to carry concealed weapons jam state agencies.

    photo
    [Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
    Bo Reuter of Redington Shores looks at a display of Glock handguns Wednesday at Bill Jackson's Shop For Adventure in Pinellas Park.
    By LEANORA MINAI

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published October 18, 2001


    Bo Reuter doesn't own a gun, but the September terrorist attacks sent him window shopping.

    Inside Bill Jackson's Shop For Adventure in Pinellas Park, Reuter held a black Glock. He aimed the $600 pistol. He squeezed the trigger.

    "Two months ago, we had security, and now it seems like we don't," said Reuter, 26, a wallpaper hanger from Redington Shores. "I just want to be protected."

    Across Florida, more people are buying handguns and requesting applications to secretly carry them. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is inundated with telephone calls from gun dealers asking for criminal background checks on customers.

    The state does not require a permit to own a gun, but does require an FDLE background check to purchase one. The state requires a license to carry a concealed gun.

    "Everybody's worried that if something does happen, it's going to pull all of the resources away, and you're going to be fending for yourself," said Ron Zepp of A to Z Firearms in Pinellas Park.

    The state Division of Licensing is struggling to keep up with the increase in requests for applications to carry concealed weapons.

    From July through September, the licensing division saw a threefold increase in application requests compared with the same months last year -- a jump from 5,280 to 15,515.

    The concealed weapons packets, which include an application form, fingerprint card and brochure, are assembled manually and sent to gun shops and dealers and law enforcement agencies, among others.

    Marilyn Thompson, the division's assistant director, said every application order is being filled, but some organizations have had to settle for fewer application packets to make sure there are enough to go around.

    "It's the bulk orders we're not able to fully supply at one time," she said.

    After the attacks, Republican state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite applied for a concealed weapons permit to carry her Colt .38 revolver.

    She has carried the gun in her glove compartment for some time while making the 200-mile drive from her home in Brooksville to Tallahassee. Now she wants some extra protection. Getting the concealed weapons permit is something she had planned to do for months, but put off.

    "I am concerned about security, of course I am," Brown-Waite said. "I cannot say it was the attacks on Sept. 11 that made me do it. I just said, 'I really should proceed with this.' "

    Background checks on customers who want to buy guns have kept the FDLE hopping since the attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

    In Florida, the number of requests jumped from 18,301 in September of last year to 27,460 last month, said Rick Morera, an FDLE spokesman in Tampa.

    When a saleswoman at Bill Jackson's called FDLE in Tallahassee for a background check on a customer on Wednesday afternoon, she was told the system was down.

    "You need an approval," Patrick Vacha, a Bill Jackson's manager, reminded the saleswoman. Shortly after, the FDLE computer was up and working and the sale went through.

    Morera said Wednesday that he called Tallahassee and was told that the computer system is not having trouble keeping up with the increase in requests for background checks.

    Gun dealers are keeping up with the demand for pistols and revolvers and AR-15 rifles and 12-gauge pump shotguns.

    "We're not seeing blind hysteria," Vacha said. Most of the buyers, he said, have been mulling over a purchase. The attacks pushed them into making a decision.

    "I have not seen someone say, "My God, sell me a gun because I want to be ready for open warfare,' " Vacha said.

    John Abene, owner of Jack's Gun Shop in Tampa, said Wednesday that he is seeing something he has never seen before: families coming in together to look at guns and buy them. "I'm literally seeing family units taking the initiative to arm themselves in the proper fashion," Abene said.

    People are being smarter about their gun purchases, asking lots of questions and taking classes on the proper handling of the weapons. Abene added that he also is seeing more people buying guns in sets. "The bulk majority of people are buying one handgun, one shotgun and one rifle," said Abene, 33.

    Reuter, the Redington Shores wallpaper hanger, said he knows a day will come when he has to protect himself. A former Army reservist, Reuter said he will buy a handgun and rifle once he settles on models.

    "What I want," he said, "is purely for self-defense."

    -- Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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