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February 07. 2013 10:45PM

President helps drive sales at Merrimack gun shop


Keith Cox, a partner in Collectible Arms and Ammo in Merrimack, believes the government is intent on disarming the populace. (SIMN ROS/Union Leader Correspondent)

MERRIMACK - Driving by Collectible Arms and Ammo on the Daniel Webster Highway, passersby see the face of President Obama alongside the words: "Firearms Salesman of the Year."

On the opposite side of the storefront window are three more familiar faces - Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong - on a large vinyl sign. A "don't tread on me" flag hangs over the door.

Keith Cox of Merrimack, a partner at Collectible, said the shop has a rotating storefront, which changes with the seasons, but is always firearm-themed. The next sign could show the Easter bunny carrying a belt-fed machine gun, he said.

Cox said the President's depiction is a nonpartisan statement. He's a fan of neither Obama nor his predecessor, George W. Bush. But he thinks the government is intent on disarming the citizenry, thus the comparison with Hitler, Mao and Stalin.

"I believe that any large, centralized government would prefer that their population were not armed, as we are in this country," said Cox, wearing a Thomas Jefferson T-shirt.

The subject of endless memes and bumper stickers, Obama's title of gun salesman of 2012 is not entirely inaccurate. Since the President's election in 2008, gun and ammunition sales have risen steadily even though he did next to nothing on gun control during his first term.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry was worth $19 billion in 2008, rising to $31 billion in 2011.

The National Rifle Association has warned its base that Obama's reelection will signify a new era of attacks on the Second Amendment. Because of the specter of gun legislation, people in the gun industry - where the NRA gets the lion's share of its revenue - are enjoying a surge in business. The owners of Collectible Firearms say sales increased twofold in November and fourfold in December.



No holiday lull



While many retail stores experience lulls after the holidays and during tax time, the momentum continues at gun retailers across the country.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation reports that compared to November 2011, imports in six firearms and ammunition categories increased 60.7 percent in November 2012, with a total of 369,000 guns imported.

Following the December massacre in Newtown, Conn., in December, gun sales continued to rise. Background checks are considered the most reliable way to track gun sales. According to FBI figures, since late December, background checks have reached their highest levels in 15 years.

New Hampshire is no exception to the trend.

Sgt. Sean Haggerty, who oversees the permits and licensing division of N.H. State Police, said the demand for background checks is reaching all-time highs.

"The past three months have been absolutely crazy," Haggerty said. "The month of December 2012 was by far the single highest monthly total ever recorded, and that was for 7,195 background checks in a single month."

A single seven-day period in January had nearly 2,000 checks, about what takes place in some months. January's checks were two times what they were the previous January.

The one-day record was set on Jan. 12, with 611 checks. That broke the previous record of 555, which was set three weeks earlier.

"Historically," Haggerty said, "incidents that have happened throughout the country, I'm sure that's a driving force, as well as the fear of the unknown of what legislation may or may not occur."



Record background checks



He said that in the last two months the department has conducted as many background checks as it did in all of 2006 - 15,851 checks.

The State Police has 4.5 positions dedicated to gun licensing, which brings in zero revenue. Haggerty said a law was passed in 1998 preventing police from charging for background checks.

"Certainly we're at a point where additional staffing is something that I think is necessary," he said.

The office is open every day of the year except Christmas and Thanksgiving. He said 98 ?to 99 percent of background checks are approved.

Cox thinks the surge in gun sales says something about the American people's perception of their government.

"This country's reaction to their statements about gun control has shown that I think most people believe that the government's not trying to make the streets safer by taking lawful persons' firearms options away from them."

Asked how much gun sales have increased since the Sandy Hook shooting, Cox rephrased the question, accusing the government of politicizing the massacre.

"Gun sales have increased since the government has announced that they want to enact more gun control," he said, "not necessarily because of the shooting, but because of our government's reaction to the shooting."

Another partner in the shop is a Russian immigrant who left the Soviet Union in 1993 during its dissolution. Not wanting to use his name or photo for the story, he said the juxtaposition between Obama and Stalin is not a comparison - but there is a message behind the symbols.

Concealed carry, he said, was banned in 1917, the year the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was founded. Now he thinks Obama is trying to do the same.



srios@newstote.com



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