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How Mass Shootings Nationwide Drive Pennsylvania Gun Sales

Memories Sportsman Shop & Taxidermy Studio has occupied the same small storefront in Sharpsburg since 1990. Owner Sam Stelitano said since the mass shooting at an Orlando night club, he's seen more customers walk through his door.

Tony Urbanek, 46, is a regular at the store. He said he bought his first gun for self-protection when he was young.

“The second gun I bought was an AR-15 assault rifle,” Urbanek said. “(It) was just for sport, for shooting, and then I got into shooting trap, which is skeet shooting.”

He considers himself a collector. He owns 30 or 40 pieces, but wants a little bit of everything, he said.

“This is a Kimber .45. It’s a protection firearm, carry piece,” he said, describing the piece he brought to the store. “I’m actually doing a trade. I have two of these. (Stelitano) has an AK-47 that I don’t have.”

But Urbanek said he is also thinking about long-term goals outside his personal collection.

“It’s an investment perspective on my part now with all the shootings," he said.

Urbanek said he expects the price of long-arm guns to go up, especially if lawmakers implement bans.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate voted on four gun control proposals that would tighten or expand background checks. All four measures failed. Meanwhile, a recent CNN poll shows more than 90 percent of Americans support expanded background checks.

Credit Steve Jordan / 90.5 WESA
Derek Reno, 22, of Shaler practices shooting.

"You won't be able to get this stuff," Urbanek said. "That’s my perception of it. And I’ve seen it through the years. Prices go up, they go down. I buy as many guns as I think will be banned, and I sit on them until the ban goes into effect. People panic when (they) can’t buy them from the company. I sell them at top dollar.

"It’s like the stock market," he said, "except you’re using guns as stocks.”

Stelitano said emotions and fear of firearm bans can become major market forces. He said he saw that in action when the national conversation turned to gun control after the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Now since the Orlando shooting, business has spiked again. But when customers request purchases and trades, first he has to pick up the phone and request an instant background check.  

“I’m number nine," he said, waiting on the phone. "Ninth caller waiting for a quick check.”

That backlogged system is the Pennsylvania Instant Check System, also known as PICS, for firearms transactions. There’s a national system, but the state opted for its own to access more of purchasers’ personal information. All licensed dealer purchases and trades, and personal handgun transfers, get checked.  

Major Scott Price, bureau director of the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Records and Identification, said demand changes constantly. Price said his department keeps track on PICS use trends to know how to staff the phone lines.

“The gun industry, it’s very susceptible to political trends, political discussions and then the normal seasonal variations," Price said. "We try to look at all of those, they all have an impact.”

In 2013, more than one million PICS requests were initiated, about 100,000 more than the year before. Price said year-over-year, PICS numbers are climbing, but within each year, those numbers fluctuate.

Spring and summer sales are moderately low, but Black Friday and hunting season sales generally continue through the holiday shopping season in December. 

Price said he can also predict PICS use by looking at gun manufacturers’ stock prices after significant political events. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was a prominent defender of gun rights, and after he died earlier this year, Smith & Wesson stock rose almost $10 in less than a month. Those stocks also rose after the shooting in Orlando.

The cause is two-fold, Price said. People fear more gun control, but also fear for their safety and buy protective weapons. As far as concerns about access to long arm guns, or so-called “assault weapons,” Price said as of right now, most 18 year olds can legally purchase them.

“If that individual’s not prohibited, they can buy a rifle whether it be bolt action or a gas operated semiautomatic or a lever action," he said. "In Pennsylvania law, a rifle is a rifle is a rifle.”

Those factors drive profits at shops like Stelitano's, but he said he worries about people making emotional purchases and would prefer to sell only to gun collectors so his weapons don’t end up in the wrong hands.

Last year, he began liquidating his inventory to close up shop. He's planning to focus exclusively on taxidermy.