Semi-automatic rifle sales surge in Myrtle Beach area amid call for gun policy changes

Across the country, guns and ammunition have flown off store shelves in the week since the attack on a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children and six adults – and the Myrtle Beach area is no different.

“Saturday is when the rush started. We’ve been open for three years and Saturday was the busiest day we’ve ever had. And it was busy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, too,” said Jason Wallace, co-owner of The Gun Store in Conway. “We had three or four record-setting sales days.”

Wallace said his store is completely sold out of the semi-automatic AR-15 rifles and ammunition – similar to the one police said the Connecticut shooter used last Friday.

“That’s what everybody feels like the government is going to ban,” he said.

Bloomberg reported that semi-automatic rifles were sold out at many Wal-Mart stores on Wednesday. And Dick’s Sporting Goods announced earlier this week that it suspended the sale of similar guns at all of its stores nationwide.

Wallace said most customers have told him they’re are afraid of what the recent shooting could mean for gun control laws. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama urged Congress to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.

The National Rifle Association plans a press conference on Friday to address what can be done to help prevent situations similar to what happened in Newtown, Conn.

Josh Brown stopped by The Gun Store on Thursday to have a new stock put on the WASR 10-63 assault rifle he purchased a few weeks ago, which is modeled after a Romanian AK-47. He said he just started hearing reports of a possible crackdown on gun laws on Tuesday.

“I’m just now hearing about it, that’s why I’m buying a whole lot of ammunition,” he said. “They’ve been busy in here. When I was in here last week the wall was full [of hanging guns].”

Brown said he used the gun for target practice – something he said he intended to do Thursday night to celebrate his 21st birthday.

“I’m planning to go down to the river tonight and shoot with some family,” he said. “I use it mostly for target practice – and to have in the house for self-defense.”

Changes to gun laws

The NRA’s press conference on Friday comes after the organization remained silent in the immediate aftermath of the Connecticut shooting.

“Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again,” the NRA said in the release.

Obama said Wednesday that Vice President Joe Biden would lead an effort to stem an “epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.” He argued during the press conference that there is a growing consensus for stepped-up gun control and said a majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips.

Wallace said there is room for changes to be made, but said he doesn’t see any good in limiting the types of guns or ammunition available for sale. He said that even if certain types of guns and ammunition were deemed illegal, there already are millions of the weapons on the streets.

“There are 300 million guns in America now. They’re not going to go away,” said Wallace, who said he worked with the Horry County police for 10 years. “We need stiffer punishments for guns used in the commission of a crime. It should [automatically] be a federal offense to use a gun in the commission of a crime. And [those convicted] should be required to serve 85 to 95 percent of prison terms.”

Wallace also argued that there should be a link between the background checks he runs on those purchasing guns and mental health records, all the way down to the prescriptions the customer is taking.

Teachers carrying guns at school

A bill prefiled by S.C. Rep. Phillip Lowe of Florence since the shooting in Connecticut doesn’t call for restrictions on guns, it would allow public school employees in the state to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.

Lowe told The Associated Press that schools are vulnerable and need protection. Allowing employees to carry guns could protect children if the school is attacked, Lowe told The Associated Press.

Under the proposed bill, all school employees could carry guns on the campus where they work, including at public colleges and universities. They would be required to have a concealed weapon permit and be qualified as an expert marksman by state police.

The idea was first introduced after the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech but did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.

Lowe’s bill is similar to a policy enacted by in Texas by David Thweatt, superintendent of the Harrold Independent School District, in 2007. All 25 employees in the rural, one-school district of about 100 students are allowed to carry concealed handguns if they so choose.

Employees interested in carrying a gun on school property must have a concealed handgun license, be approved by the school board, receive extra training in crisis management and use frangible ammunition to avoid ricochet.

Thweatt said he believes that declaring schools gun-free zones leaves them vulnerable to violence.

“It’s like putting a sign out front that says ‘this is a large group of people who can’t protect themselves,’” he said. “These active shooters aren’t going places where they’ll have resistance.”

Thweatt said representatives from schools throughout the nation have contacted him about bringing similar policies to their districts. He said he couldn’t recall if he’d heard from anyone in South Carolina.

But he said his policy, which he calls the “The Guardian Plan,” might not fit every district.

“I think people have to make that decision. Urban people tend to think differently than rural people. Many people believe that just bringing guns into school [incites] violence,” he said. “They think [guns are] evil and that the teachers are going to go crazy and shoot and kill the kids. Not the teachers I have. If that were the case they’d be stabbing kids with pencils or scissors. We have good people here.”

In South Carolina, Lowe told The Associated Press that he’d received calls from administrators and teachers, including a third-grade instructor who said she’d take her gun to school to defend her students.