LI gun shops see increased sales of weapons

Burt Benowitz first started to notice business picking up at his Coram gun shop last August, just about the time Barack Obama was cementing the Democratic presidential nomination.

"What we started getting were people coming in who were not previously into guns," said Benowitz, who has owned Benson's Gun Shop for nearly 35 years. "With the chance of a liberal Democrat in the White House and then the economy going bad, people started to become concerned."

The national jump in gun sales is mirrored on Long Island, as gun sellers report increased sales and police departments in Nassau and Suffolk counties record an increase in pistol applications and permits issued.

The numbers on Long Island Police departments in Nassau and Suffolk counties issue pistol licenses to their residents. Pistol applications on Long Island are projected to total 3,491 in 2009, a nearly 50 percent increase over last year. New York State is projecting it will issue more than 16,000 pistol permits, which usually require a background check, this year, up nearly 21 percent from 2008.

The upswing is due in part to projections for stricter gun laws under a new president and personal safety in a dismal economy, according to local gun shop owners, some of whom report sales up as much as 40 percent in the past eight to 10 months.

Nassau Det. Sgt. Anthony Repalone, a department spokesman, said that while police closely monitor gun sales, they are not worried about the increase. "It's not a concern," he said Monday. "In order to be granted a permit, a very intense, thorough background check is necessary."

Retiring law enforcers He said in recent years, police have noticed a rise in retirements among federal, state and local law-enforcement officers on Long Island. "A good portion of our [new] permit holders are retired law-enforcement officers," Repalone said.

Nassau and Suffolk counties each have about eight gun shops as well as five or more businesses that also sell guns, such as sports stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, said John Cushman, Long Island regional director for the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, a nonprofit aimed at gun safety and ownership rights.

State law does not require licenses for rifles and shotguns, but buyers in all firearms purchases through a dealer are subjected to FBI background checks. Pistol permits must be renewed every five years.

Fearing stricter gun control Anticipation of stricter gun laws based on Obama's voting record is a big reason for the demand, said Cai von Rumohr, an investment analyst at Cowen and Company who follows gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson. "And [gun] companies are telling me that with a worsening economy comes higher crime rates, and people want protection," von Rumohr said.

The National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action Web site says during his time as a U.S. and state senator from Illinois, Obama supported a wide range of state and federal proposals designed to make firearms and ammo tougher to get.

However, White House spokeswoman Moira Mack said in a statement that Obama's "administration is committed to protecting the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own and use guns while stopping firearms traffickers and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and others prohibited from owning them."

Local demand still up While von Rumohr said the nationwide spike in firearm stocks and sales appears to be "deaccelerating," many local gun shop owners said demand is still high. "The reason sales might seem to be slowing is because there is a lack of product," said Jose Maza, a manager for American Outdoor Sports Inc. in Farmingdale. Maza and other dealers say manufacturers seem to be having trouble keeping up with demand.

"I placed an order recently for handguns, and the manufacturer told me I could be looking at delivery in 2010," Maza said.

"[I'm getting] buyers from every group -- all races, creeds and economic backgrounds; guns in every price range," said Andrew Chernoff, owner of Coliseum Gun Traders Ltd. in Uniondale.

Benowitz said traditional purchasers - collectors and hunters - are not buying more guns.

"It's people you'd never expect to be associated with guns," he said, recalling a recent sale of two shotguns to a couple in their 30s who also bought a rifle for their 12-year-old daughter.

Newsday staff writer James Bernstein contributed to this story.

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