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Gun stores running low on weapons as sales surge, owners say

Brian Blanco / Reuters

Gun shop customers shop for weapons as they listen to live streaming video of an announcement about gun control by U.S. President Barack Obama at the Bullet Hole gun shop in Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday.

The shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last month touched off a wave of gun buying -- and President Barack Obama's gun-control speech this week appears to have done little to slow it down.

Documents obtained by NBC News from the state of Connecticut through a Freedom of Information Act request show a spike in gun sales in the hours and days after the deaths of 20 schoolchildren and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Interviews with gun store owners in four states after Obama's speech show that passion among buyers has not decreased over the month since Newtown; if anything, Obama's speech appeared to set off a new frenzy of buying, with some stores running low on guns.

“We were just swamped in here as soon as he got off the news,” manager Bill Loane of Pasadena Pawn & Gun in Maryland said of the reaction to Obama’s gun proposals. “People were just pouring through the door.”

As the first news was breaking in Connecticut a month ago, buyers were having the same reaction. Between 11 a.m. and noon Dec. 14, firearms retailers in the state were busy performing 105 background checks – nearly double the amount logged in the same lunchtime hour a week earlier.

A total of 725 background checks were performed that day, up from 585 a week before. The trend continued in the days ahead, resulting in a 55 percent week-over-week increase in checks.

Across the country, background checks were also surging: 900,000 more background checks were reported in December 2012 than in the same month of 2011. In total, over 3.1 million more background checks were recorded in 2012 than in 2011.

And the trend appeared to continue this week.

“My phone's been ringing off the hook this morning,” Loane said. “I got here 9:30 and it’s been nonstop.”

He said his store used to sell five or six AR-15-style rifles a month before the shooting in Newtown. He sold 55 in December. He sold 12 to 14 handguns on Wednesday and a half-dozen rifles.

Customers have been coming into Fairground Trader in Massachusetts looking for “anything and everything” since the Newtown school shooting, said store owner Tom Downey. Most of his inventory is sold out now, but his phone keeps ringing.

“I had a lot of phone calls yesterday looking for stuff I don’t have,” Downey said. “I’d say that people are on the phone just dialing every gun shop around asking questions.”

Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

A Bushmaster XM-15 .223-caliber rifle like this was used in the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. This style of rifle, modeled after the Colt AR-15, has been highly sought after since the attack, gun store owners say.

Sellers say they’ve had to turn away people looking to buy what has become a marquee item – the AR-15-style assault rifle.

The AR-15-style rifle, which is among the most popular firearm models in America, came to wider attention after Adam Lanza used one in Newtown. Fearing a ban, Loane said, his customers are paying unprecedented prices for the few guns still available.

“I just sold a lower model one the other day for $2,195 over the phone,” Loane said of a gun that a few months ago might have gone for about $1,200. “The guy had to have it. He didn’t even see the gun.”

David Stone said his Dong’s Sporting & Reloading Goods in Tulsa, Okla., was packed wall-to-wall all day on Wednesday. Stone said buyers barely paused during what he described as a “buying frenzy” to listen to the president speak over a local reporter’s iPhone.

“We’re having people call on the phone,” Stone said. “I’m the only store in Oklahoma from what customers are telling me that has AR-15s.”

Clive Courty said the racks at his GunFun Firearms store in Quincy, Ill., have been nearly fully cleared out over the last three weeks. He’s seen the largest surge in interest for “semi-auto, military-style looking” guns, he said.

“I’ve just got some basic rifles and shotguns and basically a handful of handguns, revolvers, a few semi-autos left,” Courty said. “Ammunition’s very low. I’ve got orders for just about everything, but don’t expect them.”

With distributors telling them they don’t know when supply will stabilize, some store owners say they may be in trouble if they don’t get more guns in stock soon.

“It’s a great thing for our business for the minute, but it’s really interrupted things,” Downey said. “It’s probably in the long term going to hurt me. If you don’t have anything to sell, the bills go on.”

President Obama promised to "put everything I've got" into passing a series of proposals intended to crack down on gun violence, as Republicans and the NRA are already signaling it will be an uphill battle for the administration. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

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