SYCAMORE – About a week after Dec. 14, Dennis Leifheit saw his sales more than double.
He was quickly selling out of certain items and his providers were moving products just as fast, making it impossible to restock his sold-out inventory. Guns were flying off the shelves and it was not just because of the usual holiday rush.
Leifheit, owner of ZZ Cop’s Gun Room in Sycamore, said anytime there are talks of stricter gun prohibitions, customers flock to the store, including new faces. Gun control continues to be a hot national issue after the shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary in December that left 20 children and six staff members dead.
Leifheit said he understands gun owners’ uneasiness and reactive purchasing when gun control is discussed. He said an extreme minority continues to seek to vilify and define gun owners.
“Handguns, long guns; my suppliers are pretty much out everything. ... Sales have doubled within a month,” he said, adding Firearms Owner’s Identification Card applications also have increased. “I think people are concerned about their Second Amendment rights.”
In the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 in which 26 people and the shooter were killed, much of the gun control talk in Washington has centered around the possibility of reinstating the federal ban on so-called “assault weapons,” banning high-capacity ammunition magazines, and enhanced background checks for gun purchases.
Gun-safety activists are coalescing around expanded background checks as a key goal for the gun violence prevention task force convened by Vice President Joe Biden. Some advocates said it may be more politically realistic and more effective as policy than reinstating a ban on assault weapons.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said some 40 percent of gun sales happen with no background checks, such as at gun shows and by private sellers over the Internet or through classified ads.
“Our top policy priority is closing the massive hole in the background check system,” the group said.
As a former police officer who served DeKalb, Rochelle, Genoa and Sycamore over his 40-year career, Leifheit also understands the public’s concern for safety. He said it is firearm merchants’ responsibility to educate customers on the proper safety, storage, handling and responsibility that comes with each gun purchase.
He said his store also provides courses in safety and proper handling and is ready to offer courses in legal concealed carry should it ever become law in Illinois. A three-judge panel ruled Illinois’ ban on concealed carry unconstitutional in December, but Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is appealing that decision to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Regardless of the outcome, Leifheit said an attack on gun ownership will not address the problems he saw as a police officer, or the recent spate of mass shootings. He said the discussion should focus on how to provide better mental health services to those who need it.
“It’s not the gun that does the killing, it’s the person behind the gun,” Leifheit said. “Evil walks out there and if that person wants to commit a crime, they are going to use something. It’s the person you need to work on and control because gun bans just don’t work.”
For every violent tragedy, Leifheit said there are many more examples of responsible and social uses of firearms such as his shooting organization, the Kishwaukee Regulators, which hosts Wild West shooting competitions.
Dave Lombardo, president of the Aurora Sportsmen’s Club, said he too sees an increase in gun interest when government officials begin to talk about bans. He said the club’s 518-acre site in Waterman is home to 1,400 members, many of whom learned safety procedures and firearm responsibility from club staff.
He said gun sales would continue to soar so long as the focus was on prohibition and not education.
“No one is suggesting we should be able to walk around with fully automatic weapons,” Lombardo said. “But the more the government is leaning towards outlawing firearms, the more people are going out and buying them.”
• The Associated Press contributed to this story.