One of the worst school shootings in U.S. history sent gun sales soaring in Nevada, spurred by the national debate on tighter purchasing restrictions and buyers determined to ensure their own safety.
"You can’t keep the guns on the shelf right now," said Joey Wyson, general manager of Discount Firearms & Ammo, who said sales have been up to five times the normal rate since last week’s slayings in Connecticut.
"We have a lot of first-time buyers," Wyson said Wednesday. "Tons more than we have ever seen. They are worried about their safety and about legislation that may prevent them from being able to defend themselves."
The National Rifle Association is expected to weigh in on the growing discussion today and announce "meaningful contributions." But many gun owners, who feel attention should go to mental heath issues and school safety, say the organization will not accept proposals to ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
"The NRA should be sympathetic to the families, but they should say a weapon is an inanimate object, and it doesn’t kill unless humans pull the trigger," said Walter Crawford, a retired prison guard from Las Vegas. "You can’t blame it on the gun."
The issue has gun proponents repeating a familiar refrain: The problems aren’t with the guns but with people.
"They already have a law for everything they are talking about," Las Vegas gun owner Dan Jaggers said. "It’s about paying attention to your kids when they are growing up."
Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, including a ban on more than 35 semiautomatic and automatic weapons. Yet Adam Lanza, a mentally troubled 20-year-old, shot his mother with her own guns at home and then killed 26 people, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
It was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, behind only the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people were killed.
Many said if school officials or teachers had been armed, they would have been able to stop the killings.
Others blame a poor patchwork of state and federal laws that fail to prevent mentally unstable people from obtaining guns.
"The main issue is that when they run the background check, the subgroup of those doing 98 percent of the shootings are those with personality disorders who aren’t in the database," said Bob Irwin, chief executive officer of The Gun Store, which hosts a radio program on guns and politics on KXNT-radio, 840 AM.
"We need to get tougher on mental health," added Crawford, who is applying for a concealed-weapons permit to protect his family. "Everybody is so politically correct and afraid to say something to prevent wackos from getting their hands on guns."
Dealers submitted 5,298 background requests in the five days after Friday’s shooting, nearly double the 2,782 requests over the same dates in 2011, according to the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
Authorities said the numbers might be padded by two guns shows held in the state last weekend. However, Wednesday’s 1,205 background requests was the second-highest number reported for a day this year.
Gun stores reported high interest in the AR-15 rifle used in the Connecticut slayings and in high-capacity magazines.
Whenever there is a mass shooting nationally, or a local home invasion, sales tend to spike, Irwin said. The demand is so strong that supplies of handguns and other weapons are running low and orders are backlogged across the country, he said.
Irwin classified the buyers into two categories: those interested in self-defense and those worried about new federal laws to restrict gun rights.
Irwin said that he hopes the frenzy will soon die down and that the focus will turn to school security and mental health. He said he could see extending a requirement for background checks to private gun sales and those from licensed dealers, but the problem associated with violence isn’t connected with gun shows.
"I’m not sure what will happen, but hopefully cooler heads will prevail," Irwin said. "If you have a carpenter killing people with a drill, you aren’t going after the drill. The problem is the people."
But some gun owners are willing to accept new restrictions.
North Las Vegas resident Richard De Paul suggested authorities should be notified when someone is treated for a mental disorder so weapons can be secured. De Paul, who is obtaining a concealed-weapons permit after a burglary at a neighbor’s house, said he has concerns about assault weapons.
"I don’t think we need military weapons for civilians," said De Paul, who served in the Air Force.
Wyson, who home-schools his 5-year-old daughter, said going after guns is not the answer. He suggests training more people to carry concealed weapons.
"My heart goes out to the people of Connecticut," Wyson said. "If they had legislation that allowed people to carry weapons in schools, that would deter (a gunman) from going to the school."
Maureen Lynn, the owner of Lynn’s Custom Guns, said the focus should be on responsibility of gun owners.
"You can pass a million laws, but if gun owners aren’t responsible, what does the law mean?" Lynn said. "The solution is better educating the gun owners. She (Adam Lanza’s mother) should have known better. Twenty precious babies and six adults are dead because of her stupidity, and all the laws in the world would not have solved it."