PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - The same month hundreds of thousands of people descended on the nation's capital to advocate for stricter gun laws, more people applied to purchase a firearm in Rhode Island than in more than two years, according to data from the attorney general's office.
A Target 12 review of 150 months of firearm-purchase application numbers found March 2018 was the sixth-highest month since data began in 2005, with 2,253 people looking to purchase a gun. The spike comes after the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting that has led lawmakers locally and nationally to consider tighter gun control laws.
Randy Lebeau, owner of Sakonnet River Outfitters, a Tiverton gun shop with an indoor shooting range, said he saw a sales uptick of roughly 20% last month, which equals about 10 guns. Lebeau said the government "is our best salesman."
"Obama was the best," Lebeau said. "I love Trump, but Obama was the best salesman for eight years we could ever have."
The data shows 2013 - the start of Obama's second term - was the biggest year for Rhode Island firearm purchases since 2005, with 21,648 applications. That compares with just 16,210 applications in 2017, President Trump's first year in office.
Lebeau said his store has seen monthly spikes in the past, and they usually coincide with shooting incidents or talk of more regulations.
"Typical knee-jerk reaction to people who think they are going to lose their Second Amendment rights," he said.
John Psilopoulos of Proline Firearms in Warwick also said sales were up last month, in his case by about 20%. But inquiries - like web searches and calls to his shop - rose even more.
"Unfortunately after a tragic shooting, once the government or officials talk gun bans, it drives sales," Psilopoulos said.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, he said, there was a surge in sales of semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15, and large-capacity magazines.
Lebeau said people have to fill out a firearm purchase application for each transaction to buy a gun, but multiple guns can be bought in that same transaction.
The state data shows that of the 178,362 applications to purchase a firearm in Rhode Island since 2005, only 1,331 - or less than 1% - have been rejected. Lebeau said applications are denied if something is flagged in a criminal background check for domestic assault or other violent crimes.
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