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Strong on gun rights, Trump weakens gun sales in Florida, state figure show

TAMPA

Support for gun rights is a bedrock issue for President Donald Trump.

The gun industry, though, appears to be taking a hit with his election.

Since January, two key indicators of firearms ownership in Florida have declined compared to the same seven-month period in 2016, when they reached record highs.

Through July, people filed about 559,000 requests for concealed weapons permits, down about 4 percent from the same period a year ago. Also during that period, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ran about 139,000 background checks at the request of licensed gun dealers, down about 10 percent from 2016.

Two local gun dealers and a manufacturer confirm the trend. No one worries about Trump taking away their guns, according to these men, as they did with former President Barack Obama.

"It's been said many times that Obama was the gun industry's best salesman," said Fred Flesche, owner of Shooting Sports of Tampa, a gun range and dealership on Dale Mabry Highway. "Every time he talked about gun control, gun sales went up."

Obama spoke frequently about increasing government control over gun sales, especially after mass shootings like the December 2012 killing of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

In Florida, concealed weapons permit applications jumped more than 25 percent and background checks by more than 8 percent in the year following the Sandy Hook shooting. The numbers of both concealed weapons permit applications and background checks peaked in Florida during the last year of the Obama administration, according to state figures.

"I think it's because after the election, people were not as concerned with antigun legislation," said Bruce Kitzis, general manager of Shooters World on Fletcher Avenue in Tampa. "There was a lot of fear leading up to the election that if a Democrat was in office we would see a lot of gun restrictions."

Mark Serbu, owner of Tampa's Serbu Firearms, says sales of his products have been down since the election.

"Everyone is down right now because a Democrat didn't win and there wasn't the panic buying like under the last administration," Serbu said. "Gun owners now have an advocate in the White House they didn't have over the past eight years."

Flesche said he has experienced drops in sales across the board and in enrollment for concealed weapons permit classes. Kitzis said sales of semiautomatic long guns, like the AR-15-type Bushmaster used in the Newtown massacre, have dropped.

"Our concealed weapons classes are running very close to last year's numbers," Kitzis said. "We have not seen a significant drop in class numbers. As far as sales, there has been a slight decrease in tactical gun sales but our handgun sales have been strong."

Kitzis added that his shop has seen an increase in use of its shooting range.

There is validity to the theory that Trump's victory has helped diminish gun sales, said Marion Hammer, spokeswoman for the NRA's Florida chapter.

"People tend to purchase things that they are afraid someone is going to take away or keep them from purchasing," Hammer said. "Now that we have a president who supports all of the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, the gun owners are not as afraid of losing their rights as they were under Obama or any other very liberal antigun Democrat."

Despite the Florida numbers, Hammer said, NRA membership in the state is on the rise. She declined to release any figures, though.

Trump in the White House helps explain the decline in gun purchases, said Patty Brigham, co-chairwoman of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

"We of course know he is aligned with the National Rifle Association," Brigham said. "That possibly explains some of it."

But there is another theory on why applications for concealed weapons permit are down, from Dave Winters, who runs the wounded veterans support group called Black Dagger Military Hunt Club.

The market, said Winters, is saturated: "All my friends already have concealed weapons permits."

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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