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Rise in county gun sales tied to fewer cops, what Obama might do

Gun sales in Sacramento County have grown more than in any other populous county in California since November, according to the state attorney general's office.

From November 2008 to May 2009, gun dealers in Sacramento County sold nearly 5,000 more guns than they did in the same period last year, an increase of 40 percent, statistics from the state Bureau of Firearms show.

The state increase in gun sales averaged 32 percent.

Sacramento County gun owners, advocates and store owners largely attribute the boom to fear.

Initially, they said, buyers were concerned that the Obama administration would support further gun controls. More recently, Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness announced layoffs of 202 sworn deputies and 40 non-sworn personnel because of budget cuts to his department further spurring local gun sales.

"I've noticed a tremendous change," said Ron Herbertson, 47, a Sacramento insurance specialist and gun owner. "I was just in a gun store today you can't find ammunition, and guns are flying off the shelves. It's hard for them to keep them in stock."

Herbertson would not say how many guns he has bought in recent months, but he described himself as "well-equipped."

Between November 2008 and May 2009, 15,993 handguns and long guns were sold in Sacramento County, and 314,201 were sold statewide.

"There has definitely been a dramatic increase in consumer desire for firearms and ammunition," said Chuck Michel, attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, a 45,000-member organization that promotes firearm safety and gun rights. "It is motivated primarily by a fear of what ill-conceived gun laws the Obama administration might propose, but it's also attributable to a fear of a rise in crime from a bad economy and less money for police."

Obama has been trying to assuage voters' fears about his intentions for gun control ever since the campaign.

"I believe in the Second Amendment," he told voters in Ohio one month before the election. "I believe in people's lawful right to bear arms. I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."

Obama has said that he supports "common sense" gun laws, which some gun rights advocates interpreted to mean that he might enact some gun restrictions.

TJ Alvez, 23, an assistant manager at Just Guns in Sacramento, said he has seen an increase in first-time gun buyers.

"Ever since the election, there has been a new customer base that has come into the store," said Alvez. "People we have never seen before, and people who have never owned a firearm, are coming in to buy guns because they think they'll never be able to own one ever again."

Not everyone buying guns attributed the purchases to fears of stricter gun control.

Retired police Officer Lee Dummel said he bought guns to add to his antique firearms collection.

"I do know of many of my friends who have purchased a number of new guns since the administration came in for fear that some serious anti-gun laws were going to be proposed."

Dummel, who teaches gun safety courses in Butte County, also said that interest in firearms for self-defense has skyrocketed recently.

"A lot of my friends have purchased firearms for self-protection," he said. "As a career law enforcement officer, I definitely believe that people who don't have criminal records and who go through the training should be able to have a firearm in order to protect themselves because with the scarcity of officers you basically have to rely on yourself for protection."

Some experts suggest a correlation exists between increased gun sales and violent crimes.

Sgt. Norm Leong, Sacramento Police Department spokesman, said that he hasn't seen that. "I review all the dailies (daily crime reports), and I don't really see an upswing of gun violence. We've pretty much had a steady decline of all our crime," he said.

Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman Tim Curran agreed.

"We don't have a specific category for gun violence statistics, but violent crime is down," Curran said. "All assaults with a deadly weapon are down this year."

Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, said it is too early to tell if the surge in gun sales will affect crime rates.

"There hasn't been time yet to see if there is going to be a relationship between the recent increase in gun sales and a later increase in crime," said Wintemute. "Crime rates and gun sales go up and down together, but there's a lot of controversy about which is responsible for the other."

Wintemute said that because police departments aren't required to maintain statistics on the frequency of gun use in violence crime, it is almost impossible to evaluate the relationship between gun sales and gun crime.

"Police departments are required to report violent crimes, but they don't have to report whether guns were used in that violence or not," he said. "If we saw an increase in gun crime, without an increase in other crime, we would be able to tell."

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