Gun sales historically increase when there is a possibility that a Democrat will be elected — or re-elected — president, according to local gun shop spokesmen, and the trend continues this election season.
Several Polk County gun shops report that sales continue to be strong.
Hartman's Guns and Ammo in Winter Haven experienced increases beginning in late 2011, but business has been robust for the past five years, said Jeff Riggeal, manager of the gun department.
Handguns are the shop's top sellers, followed by semiautomatic rifles.
Sales are up about 20 percent this year for Craig Shaver, owner of Arms Equipment and Rifles in Haines City.
His business opened nearly two years ago, and the biggest area of increase has been in semiautomatic handguns.
Steve Brown, manager of Shoot Straight in Lakeland, said his store is experiencing healthy sales of handguns and semiautomatic rifles — also referred to as modern sporting, paramilitary and assault rifles.
Gun aficionados tend to buy more guns and ammunition when it appears a Democrat could be elected president because history shows gun laws often tighten during a Democrat administration, Riggeal said. There is a mentality among many gun buyers that, "I better get one of these before I can't get them anymore."
Traditionally, "the first things (Democrats) go after are paramilitary-style weapons and high-capacity magazines in handguns" when they seek to enact gun legislation, Riggeal said.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady handgun law, mandating federal background checks for gun buyers.
He also signed the Assault Weapons Ban, passed by Congress in 1994, which lasted for 10 years.
President Barack Obama has not made any big moves regarding guns while president.
Regardless, Hartman's Guns and Ammo had a strong 2007, and after Obama's election, sales "went off the charts for three years," he said. "I've never seen it that strong, ever."
He had banked on the sales increase by stocking up on AR-15s, a popular semiautomatic rifle.
"We would sell five or six a day back then," he said. "For a store like this, that's incredible."
Today, he estimates he sells about three semiautomatic rifles per week.
Five years ago, it also was common for customers to stock up on ammunition. Some purchased $2,500 worth at a time.
"I think people do get nervous as we're entering an election," Brown said. "People get worried someone is going to make a run at their rights. They will not postpone purchasing something in that scenario."
In addition to election jitters, Brown said he believes some of the sales increase gun shops are experiencing is the result of pent-up demand that dates to the housing-market collapse.
People simply are ready to spend money again.
Some customers indicate they're buying a handgun for personal protection.
"Any time you have a recession or the economy is bad, crime goes up," Riggear said. "I've had people say they haven't owned a gun in 20 years, but they see so much going on around them, they feel scared. They want it for personal protection."
There's no question that the industry as a whole is seeing an increase in purchases, judging by how difficult it is to find some new firearms today, Brown said. Many Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Kimber products are back-ordered.
Ruger recently announced it has received orders for more than 1 million units in the first quarter of 2012. Because of that, it has temporarily suspended acceptance of new orders.
"If I order you a specific Kimber today, it will be at least eight months before I get that gun," Riggeal said. "I've gotten some in six months, and I've waited as long as a year for some."
Nationally, self-reported gun ownership is at 47 percent, according to a Gallup poll released in October. That is the highest it's been since 1993.
U.S. handgun growth has been driven by pistols, which represent 80 percent of units manufactured, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Report for 2010, the most current year available.
While it is difficult to quantify gun sales, local gun store managers agree that National Instant Criminal Background Check System firearm background checks provide some insight into sales trends because gun stores must conduct these checks prior to selling a gun.
However, these statistics represent the number of checks initiated through NICS, not the number of firearms sold, according to the FBI's website. NICS performed 256,821 firearm background checks between January and April. During the same four months last year, NICS conducted 220,950 checks.