BURLINGTON — As customers browsed the illuminated glass cases full of guns on a rainy weekday morning at Skagit Arms, a man with a dolly stacked high with boxes of ammunition started unloading his haul.
“Everybody gets a little,” said Brent Straight, owner of Skagit Shooting Sports, as he unloaded the dolly.
Customers eyed the growing pile of nondescript brown boxes, and a few asked what caliber of bullets were contained inside.
Shops like Skagit Arms in Burlington are becoming more popular since the re-election of President Barack Obama and the recent wave of mass shootings across the country.
Anthon Steen, owner of Skagit Arms, said he’s sold out of many popular rifles and ammunition. He said customers travel to several gun shops seeking the ammunition and guns that they want, and often return home empty-handed.
“Everyone’s running out of stuff,” Steen said. “Distributors and manufacturers are running out of product.”
Orders at his shop made on Dec. 2 are sitting in warehouses because delivery trucks can’t keep up with demand, he said. Steen said he plans to attend the SHOT show in Las Vegas to restock his inventory.
Local law enforcement also has experienced a run on applications for concealed pistol licenses since the Newtown, Conn., shooting of 20 elementary students and six educators.
The county sheriff or a city police department can process the applications. Any U.S. citizen or permanent resident alien age 21 or older who can pass a background check can pay a $52.50 fee for a concealed pistol license.
“We’ve been inundated since the school shooting,” said Jackie Brunson, chief of administration for the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office.
Concealed pistol licenses are up statewide. There are about 393,000 active users, and that number is rising, said Casey Anthony, spokeswoman for the state Department of Licensing. The state processed 106,201 for 2012.
“I know the lines are longer and the applications have increased from what I’ve heard,” she said.
Last month, the city of Anacortes issued more licenses than ever in a monthlong period, at 330, with 32 of those pending a state background check.
“Definitely I think people are concerned over changes in gun laws,” said Anacortes Police Chief Bonnie Bowers. “We are not worried about people who are following the law. I am happy with the people who care enough to come in and get a concealed permit and follow the law.”
Last year, the Sheriff’s Office processed 1,564 concealed pistol licenses — also a record for the department. In a two- or three-day period after the school shooting in December, Brunson said the office processed about 150 licenses.
Sedro-Woolley Police Chief Doug Wood said of the 24 permits processed in December, 16 were applied for on the day of and week following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Jeff O’Donnell of Stanwood said he’s had his permit to carry a concealed pistol for a few years. He originally got it for family and home protection.
“I hunt deer, bear and cougar,” O’Donnell said. For deer, “I have a lucky spot in Eastern Washington.”
On those long drives, he said it’s reassuring to have his .44-caliber pistol at his side.
“If I take my kids to the mountains, I want to have protection,” he said. “Hopefully I never have to pull it out and use it.”
Straight said the increased demand for guns and ammunition began in September, when political pundits predicted a close presidential election. On election night, Straight said websites that sold ammunition were crashing.
“We had to shut ours off as soon as they called Ohio (for Obama),” Straight said. “We just didn’t have the inventory.”
Straight has had a concealed weapons permit since he was 27. He said training for new gun owners is crucial.
Some states, like Utah, require a proficiency test before a gun owner can have a concealed weapons permit, he said, and maybe this state should have one.
“I think most of the guys here would agree, but they don’t want to say it because that means more rules,” Straight said.
There is no indoor shooting range in Skagit County, but one near the Canadian border is seeing an increase in demand for pistol instruction.
Rick Naslund, general officer of the Custer Sportsmen’s Club, said the club has doubled its January and February classes to meet the demand, which has “more than doubled” since October.
“It’s just gone crazy,” he said. “We’re booked so far ahead that we’re filling up March classes now.”
Naslund said people also are saying “we are concerned with where we are going as a country.”
The classes, certified by the National Rifle Association, teach people the basics of gun use (what is a barrel, what is a trigger, etc.), how to safely handle a gun and how to decide whether to fire one.
“The law allows you to draw a firearm out if you feel there’s an imminent threat of harm or death,” Naslund said.
Last month, in response to the Newtown shooting, state Rep. Liz Pike of Camas considered proposing legislation that would change state law allowing teachers to volunteer to carry their own concealed weapon on school grounds if they pass a mental health evaluation and pay for a weeklong gun safety course. Naslund said if the state passes a law that allows school employees to carry on campus, the club will offer free classes to teachers.
Hundreds of teachers in Ohio, Utah and Texas filled free firearms training classes in the days and weeks after the shooting.
The National Rifle Association proposed armed guards in every school. NRA executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre advocated the position in a 30-minute press conference a week after the shooting, saying, “Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or from a minute away?” He also blamed shootings on video game violence.
The gun group’s response to the shooting sparked backlash from the Obama administration. Vice President Joe Biden just finished a week of hearings with a variety of groups, including law enforcement, medical groups, hunters, gun owners and the entertainment industry. Biden pledged to get his policy recommendations to the president by Jan. 15.
“I think (a concealed handgun) is a great deterrent,” Naslund said. “If the bad guys know there’s somebody who is going to shoot back at them, they are going to go somewhere else.”
Keeping guns in the hands of the right people was on the minds of many at Skagit Arms.
Kent Ducote said he’s had his license for more than six years, and his wife has one, too, but he said he knows a few who carry concealed weapons and shouldn’t.
“I wish they’d make it more stringent,” Ducote said of acquiring a license. Then he shifted on his feet and paused. “I honestly don’t know. … I think at gun shows they should do background checks.”
The recent shootings concern O’Donnell, but he doesn’t think restricting gun use is the answer.
“The guns get blamed. We jokingly said it was a woman that ate the apple and there were no guns involved,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t think you can get the guns away from the bad guy.”
n The Associated Press contributed to this report.