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Gun sales surging; sheriff makes changes to handgun purchase permit requests
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Gun sales surging; sheriff makes changes to handgun purchase permit requests

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The gun buyers started showing up about the same time as the coronavirus — a few weeks ago.

The owners of both Big Shots and Nebraska Gun noticed something similar about them: Most of their new customers were shopping for their first guns, and most were interested in firearms suited for home protection.

Such as defensive-style shotguns, to be loaded with buckshot and slugs. Lots of 9mm handguns. Lots of ammo.

“Basically, stuff that is fairly easy for people to defend their home with, and their family,” said Jim Clark, a co-owner of Big Shots on Sun Valley Boulevard.

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And after a couple of slow years — with gun owners more comfortable about the future of the Second Amendment after President Trump’s election — the recent sales spike was startling, Clark said, up maybe 100% compared with this time last year.

Jeff McIntyre, president of Nebraska Gun, couldn’t put a number to his jump in sales. “But it’s very, very noticeable. You could call it a huge increase.”

They don’t ask why people are buying guns, but they have an idea.

“A lot of them are a little uncertain with the pandemic that’s going on,” Clark said. “Some of the things they’re seeing in bigger cities.”

The demand has been reflected at the front counter of the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, where requests for handgun purchase permits have jumped more than sevenfold.

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"We are seeing up to 75 to 100 a day, which is an increase from what we typically see of 10 to 15 a day," Chief Deputy Todd Duncan said Wednesday.

But the process will change starting Friday. In an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the sheriff’s office will close its counter to requests, offering them by mail only.

"The entire purpose of that is for the safety and welfare of the public and our employees to minimize person-to-person contact," Duncan said.

The public can download a handgun purchase permit form on the sheriff's webpage or call the office at 402-441-6500 and ask to have an application mailed.

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The application will need to be completed and notarized before being sent in with a $5 payment and a copy of a valid driver's license with a current address.

"The message is we're going to continue to process these as we always have. But we're doing these entirely by mail and no longer in person at our service counter," Duncan said.

The sheriff's office has seen spikes in requests for firearm purchase certificates —  required to buy, lease, rent or receive a handgun — in the past, largely driven by political events.

Presidential elections also have caused dramatic spikes, Duncan said. "I think that same type of behavior is playing out now with this.”

Duncan asked the public to be patient as they work to keep up with the increase.

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"I can say the sheriff's office has not seen any reason for the public to be alarmed at this point from a public safety standpoint. Nor do we see any need for this increase in handgun purchase certificates," he said. "It's generally business as usual out there."

And it’s mostly business as usual at Big Shots, Clark said. It is still operating its sales area and range, still offering classes. But it's working within the confines of virus-prevention guidelines, limiting the number of people inside the building to 10 at a time, canceling big classes and rescheduling others.

“Folks have been very respectful and calm,” Clark said. “We really haven’t had anybody get wound up that we’ve had to limit.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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