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Fears of gun ban, Obama reelection, spike weapons sales

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

Sales of pistols and semi-automatic AR-15 rifles like the one used in the Colorado mass killings are spiking amid concerns that the shootings inside a midnight premiere of Batman that left 12 dead could prompt a new wave of gun-control laws, especially if President Obama is reelected.

While there has been no outcry yet among liberals in Washington to renew the assault weapons ban that barred sales of AR-type semi-automatic rifles, dealers and manufacturers told Secrets that "panicked" consumers are worried that the election could be followed with regulations, laws or rules aimed at curbing or killing sales.

Larry Hyatt, president of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C., one of the nation's largest sellers, said that he had so many customers flood his store Saturday after the Colorado shooting that "we couldn't fit everybody in." Hyatt, who offers classes on AR shooting, also said that since Friday, applications to carry concealed weapons has jumped from the normal 15 a month to 42.

"People are concerned that gun laws are rearing up," he said.

The assault weapons ban ended in 2004, opening the door to sales of semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15, initially built for military use and used for target practice and hunting. Lawmakers have threatened to revive it, but concede that it won't happen in a election year.

Tom Spithaler, marketing director of AR-15 maker Olympic Arms, one of about 80 companies that produce North America's most popular gun, said he's seen a jump in calls from potential first-time buyers. "There is a 'fear factor' component from first-time buyers," he told Secrets, explaining that they want to get one now in case support for a ban takes off.

While the Colorado shooting has sparked more sales nationally, gun dealers said that they have been experiencing a surge in sales, especially in semi-automatic weapons, since Obama was elected and as the 2012 election has neared. "We've seen a spike ever since 2008," when Obama was elected, said a spokesman for Loudoun Guns in Leesburg, Va.

"Sales were already high," said Spithaler. "But in an election year, it's even higher," he added.

Hyatt, who has operated his store for 53 years, said that he is seeing a surge in first time buyers worried that guns they want could be banned and from collectors who believe prices of banned guns would surge.

And, he added, there is a new type of buyer: Those who fear the economy is about to implode and want personal protection. "This is not just because of President Obama, but concern about an economic catastrophe," he said. "They're thinking, 'We better look out for ourselves.'"

While pleased with the sales boost, Hyatt said it's temporary. "This guy in Colorado damaged gun ownership," he said.