- Associated Press - Friday, October 28, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) - Chris Cantrell couldn’t give an exact number, but he knew he owned somewhere around two dozen guns.

Standing inside Armed Sources Gun and Pawn on Grant Avenue where he’s a customer, Cantrell had a simple explanation for how he came to own that many guns.

“That’s because I’m old,” he said.

Over the years, Cantrell told the Springfield News-Leader (https://j.mp/2evvKOf ), he’s bought a lot of guns - guns for hunting, guns for target shooting, a gun for home defense and a gun he carries with him.

“I was hunting with my father when I was 2 or 3 years old,” Cantrell said of his central Colorado childhood. “When I was growing up, everybody owned a gun.”

And about half a dozen guns ago, Cantrell unknowingly joined a group of American adults that some media outlets have recently dubbed “super-owners.”

That’s based on early results from a new study examining trends in gun ownership. It says 3 percent of U.S. adults - Cantrell plus about 7 million other Americans - own half the guns in America. That means they each own an average of 17 guns.

The researchers, from Harvard and Northeastern universities, released summaries to the Guardian and The Trace news outlets last month. The full study is under peer review for publication in a trade journal.

An author of the study said researchers tried to update numbers and trends that had not been reviewed in two decades, and they found the number of guns increased while the proportion of adults who own guns decreased, meaning more guns are now in fewer hands.

Brandon Haling, the owner at Armed Sources Gun & Pawn, reviewed reports of the study.

That 3 percent of adults own an average of 17 guns doesn’t surprise him, Haling said, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone. Owning guns is like owning shoes, he said.

A person wouldn’t wear dress shoes to go hiking or tennis shoes to go to a job interview, Haling explained, and similarly, that person wouldn’t use a handgun to hunt turkey or a collector’s musket to shoot clay pigeons.

Haling, though, was skeptical that the proportion of gun owners is going down.

“Is that the Midwest or is that California and New York?” he asked. “Where’s the sample coming from?”

From his side of the sales counter, Haling said he’s seen lots of first-time gun buyers.

“People are scared. They don’t want to walk around unprotected anymore,” Haling said. “I don’t think in the Midwest (the number of gun owners is) going down at all.”

Haling said he opened his shop three years ago and, while they aren’t all first-time gun buyers, 1,200 new customers have walked into his store so far this year.

People are increasingly buying guns because of an “atmosphere” influenced by shootings, fear and the media, Haling said.

“Unfortunately, the media is about making money … sex, drugs, disaster, death - that’s what sells,” he said. “They’re trying to make it black and white with the election coming.”

A 65-year-old rifle owner came in one recent morning, Haling said, and told him: “I think I just need a handgun for protection.”

A major finding of the study was that the top reason people owned guns was for protection from other people.

Nationally, reports of violent crime - forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault and murder - have dropped steeply since peaking in 1991, according to data collected by the FBI.

In Springfield, though, reports of violent crime have risen steadily in the last several years. Police said that while homicides were down, reports of robberies, aggravated assaults and rapes all increased by double digits in 2015, compared to 2014.

Cantrell, for instance, said while he was introduced to guns through hunting, there have been robberies near his workplace and he now carries a gun for self-protection.

“Does that mean I’m afraid? No,” he said. “Carrying a handgun, I feel much more confident.”

The clerk at Armed Sources Gun and Pawn, Jessica Jones, said she bought her handgun - her first gun - after she started working nights a Kum & Go. She said it’s common for a woman who works at night to buy a handgun because of “creepers.”

The number of handguns in America has risen dramatically, according to the new study, going from 65 million in 1994 to an estimated 111 million nationwide, a 71 percent increase from the 65 million handguns in 1994.

Across town at Cherokee Firearms on National Avenue, a woman said she’s planning to buy her first gun - also a handgun.

Melissa Wight was on a lunch break from a concealed carry class organized by Cherokee Firearms. She said she’s thought about buying a gun for a while now and is looking forward to feeling more secure when she and her children are out and her husband isn’t present.

“I just feel like I need more protection,” she said. “I’ve got two kids and one more on the way.”

Cherokee Firearms is trying to cater to more women like Wight.

Rifles adorn the walls, pistols shine in display cases, but there is also a row of purses - red, black, brown and even one in zebra print.

Those purses are specially designed to holster a small gun, and the straps have metal wiring in them so would-be robbers can’t cut or rip the purse’s strap.

Wight emphasized the importance of training, though, before she carries a handgun. She said she wants to be a safe, responsible gun owner.

“We don’t need more crazy people carrying guns,” she said. “We need people that are more knowledgeable, able to protect themselves and the people around them.”

When Wight finishes her training and buys a handgun, she will join the other 55 million Americans who own at least one gun, according to the study.

That number is up 10 million from 1994, but, due to population growth, gun owners represent a smaller slice of the American population.

The study found the percentage of American adults who own a firearm went down from 25 percent to 22 percent from 1994 to 2015.

Over the same time period, the study found the estimated number of guns in the country increased by about 70 million for a total of 265 million in America.

Behind the display case at Cherokee Firearms, Jesse Bebout was helping customers pick out their next gun. He said it’s not unusual to run across someone in the gun store who owns 20, 30 or even 100 guns.

“Is there anything wrong with that? In my opinion, hell no,” he said. “In Missouri, it’s not that big of a deal … A lot of people hunt. A lot of people collect.”

The Sig Sauer 938 handgun is the store’s most popular handgun, said another employee, Greg Roeder. Roeder called it the “bee’s knees … (a) really solid gun.”

Most of the other employees at Cherokee Firearms have large Sig Sauer handguns holstered on their sides.

Tucked into his pants, Bebout also has a small 0.22-caliber pistol that he said he carries concealed to church or weddings.

About seven out of 10 gun sales at Cherokee Firearms are for handguns, Bebout said, and new gun owners are increasingly buying guns for safety.

Most people who carry a gun will never have to use it, he said, but “unfortunately, there’s crazy people all over the place.”

___

Information from: Springfield News-Leader, https://www.news-leader.com


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