Butch Cole, a co-owner/operator of Lithonia Pawn on Old Covington Highway, loads 40 caliber bullets into the magazine for a Glock 40 caliber handgun. Cole said certain types of guns are getting harder to keep in stock due to concerns over expanded gun-control measures. -- Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- Local dealers say gun sales are off the charts in Rockdale County, and county officials said the number of residents applying for permits to carry a handgun has shown a sharp increase.
Rockdale Probate Court Judge Charles Mays said his office received 114 permit applications through the first 10 days of this month, compared to 43 for the same time period last year -- an increase of more than 60 percent.
Donna Foust, a clerk in the Probate Court office, said 999 permit applications were processed in Rockdale County in 2011, compared to 1,327 in 2012.
Mays said what appears to be developing into a dramatic increase for 2013 likely has two origins -- a desire by people for personal protection and as a hedge against new gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting that left 27 dead.
"I wasn't here at the time there was the incident at the movie theater (in Aurora, Colo.)," said Mays. "But I imagine there was a marked increase at that time as well."
Butch Cole, a co-owner of Lithonia Pawn Shop on Old Covington Highway, said his store has been flooded with customers looking to buy any gun that may be banned under new gun-control measures. He said the possibility of new gun-control legislation has resulted in store shelves stripped of certain types of guns and ammunition.
"Local reaction has been a gun-buying frenzy, and that is no joke," he said. "It's worse than Black Friday."
Cole, whose family has owned and operated Lithonia Pawn for 35 years, said the demand has resulted in gun prices that have tripled and ammunition prices that have at least doubled, when you can get it. "Availability is next to nothing," he said.
In general, Cole said, buyers are looking for AK47s, AR-15s and high capacity handguns.
Getting the merchandise to sell is the problem.
"We're not really able to get anything in," he said Tuesday. "We've been on the phone today alone with four different major distributors in the U.S. They are just out of stock on everything. They are back-ordered to the max. They are back-ordered as much as six months."
Mike Shanks, a 20-year employee at Fieldstone Jewelry and Pawn on Iris Drive, said he is also finding it difficult to keep certain weapons in stock, particularly weapons with high-capacity clips or any assault-type weapon models like AR-15 semi-automatic rifles or Mini 14 semi-automatic carbines.
Shanks agreed that the ongoing national debate about gun control is fueling the frenzy.
"The way everything is going with assault weapons, an AR-15 or Mini-14, (customers) are buying them up because they are afraid they are going to be harder to get," said Shanks.
One thing is clear, though, Shanks said. "If you are able to purchase them, you're going to have to pay top dollar."
The gun-buying boom is illustrated nationwide in the number of background checks for firearms sales. Earlier this month, the FBI announced that it conducted more background checks for firearms sales and permits to carry guns the week following the Newtown, Conn. shooting massacre than it has in any other one-week period since 1998, when the FBI started keeping track of the background checks.
The second highest week for background checks came earlier this month after President Barack Obama announced plans to curb gun violence. The number of background checks does not represent the number of firearms purchased, but gun manufacturers use the statistics to measure the health of the gun industry in the U.S.
After the Dec. 14 shooting at Newtown, the FBI conducted 953,613 background checks between Dec. 17 and Dec. 23. The highest number of background checks in a single day since 1998 was Dec. 21, just one week after the Newtown shootings. The second highest day for background checks was Dec. 20.
During the week that Obama announced his plans to curb gun violence, the FBI conducted 641,501 background checks. The 10th highest single day for background checks came Jan. 19, three days after Obama spoke about gun violence and new gun control measures. Obama has announced a $500 million plan to tighten federal gun laws, and he is urging Congress to pass new laws that would ban "military-style assault weapons."
Nationally, there were nearly twice as many more background checks for firearms between November and December 2012 than during the same time period one year ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.