Gun sales on Oahu blazing


POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

First-time gun buyer Anthony Escasa obtained his permit to purchase a PS-90, describing it as a compact, futuristic-looking, semiautomatic weapon used by SWAT teams.

Escasa was one of many lined up at the Honolulu Police Department's main station recently to register newly purchased firearms. He said the PS-90 could become a collector's item, citing a campaign promise by then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to reinstate a ban on so-called assault weapons.

The 29-year-old also cited the economic crisis as a big reason.

“;People get more desperate and get involved in drugs and criminal activity — breaking into properties,”; he said.




By the numbers


        16,641: The number of gun registrations in 2008

300: The percentage increase in sales at Magnum Firearms of semiautomatic versions of the AR-15 and AK-47 since the election


Honolulu residents have been registering guns this year at a blistering pace that, if kept up, would result in 18,900 firearms registered this year, a possible 13.5 percent jump from last year, reflecting national trends.

Last year, gun registration by the Honolulu Police Department shot up 23 percent to 16,641 from 13,540 the previous year. In 2006, 12,330 guns were registered.

Nationwide the FBI performed 31 percent more firearms background checks from the month of the presidential election until the month of the inauguration — more than 4.2 million checks from November through January, compared with 3.2 million from November 2007 through January 2008.

Concerns that the new president will outlaw so-called assault weapons, along with fear that the economic crisis will result in civil unrest and a rise in violent crime, might be spurring the upswing in gun ownership.

Some individuals registering military-style firearms said it was better than investing in the stock market, and have seen a doubling in value.

Individuals registered 1,601 guns in January and 1,549 in February. The number includes newly purchased, transferred, inherited and out-of-state guns, according to HPD.

“;Sales have been exhausting,”; said Art Ong, president of Magnum Firearms gun shop. “;In one day it's like what we did in one week last year. ... We have no one else to thank but the Obama administration.”;

Magnum's sales of the semiautomatic versions of the AR-15 and AK-47 have risen about 300 percent since the election, Ong said.

Hawaii is also feeling the nationwide shortage of ammunition and firearms.

“;All the wholesalers are wiped out,”; Ong said.

Rifle manufacturers cannot keep up. Ong said rifles are back-ordered until July 2010.

Ty Robinson, 33, of Manoa, a hunter who reloads his own casings, said he can no longer stop at Sports Authority and find reloading components, and is forced to buy from the mainland.

Regarding the shortage, Windward Gun Shop owner Joe Graham said, “;It's firearms. It's ammunition. It's reloading products. It's everything related to the industry.”;

The ammunition shortage is driving prices up, and retailers are at the mercy of wholesalers, he said.

Graham said customers came in after Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned reinstating the assault weapons ban that former President Bill Clinton started. But Obama said Thursday he will not seek to renew the ban.

Instead, he plans to step up enforcement of laws banning the transfer of such guns across the Mexican border. The Mexican president, who is fighting drug cartels, hoped to persuade Obama to reinstate the ban.

Graham said sales are up 20 percent.

“;My partner is out getting a photo of Obama. He's salesman of the month — not my partner, Obama.”;

To some Hawaii residents the illegal use of guns appears to be prevalent, and owning a gun would be a deterrent. They point to the March 28 fatal Chinatown shooting by alleged gang members using a shotgun and an assault-style weapon, and the April 12 fatal shooting of a 54-year-old woman by a 70-year-old man.

Gun enthusiast and entertainer Audy Kimura said several unlikely candidates for gun ownership have recently sought his advice on purchasing firearms. One, a soft-spoken first-grade teacher in her 50s, does not feel safe living alone, he said.

“;I know a lot of people who simply could not shoot somebody,”; he said. “;If you're one of those people, then the gun may be used on you.”;


The Associated Press contributed to this report.