SC’s gun culture bucks national trends

While a recent major trend survey revealed the number of Americans living in a household with at least one gun is lower than ever, many in South Carolina suggest the state’s gun culture is alive and well.

According to the latest General Social Survey, 32 percent of Americans either own a firearm themselves or live with someone who does, which ties a record low set in 2010. That’s a significant decline since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when about half of Americans told researchers there was a gun in their household.

The General Social Survey is conducted by NORC, an independent research organization based at the University of Chicago, with money from the National Science Foundation. Data from the 2014 survey was recently released and suggested a drop in the number of Americans who own a gun or live in a household with one. The downward trend is linked to the decline in the popularity of hunting.

However, Little Mountain Gun and Supply store owners Faye and Gerald Stoudemire agree the gun business in South Carolina is still strong.

“People are buying them faster than they can make them,” Gerald Stoudemire said. “All of the dealers around the area are snowed under and we are on back order.”

Faye Stoudemire, who handles the business side of the business, estimates she has sold anywhere from 150 to 200 firearms within the last year.

“I don’t see a decline in (business),” Faye Stoudemire said.

She said one type of gun that has become popular among buyers is what she calls “black guns,” or firearms that closely resemble military-style rifles. But the one type of firearm she is having a difficult time keeping on the shelves are handguns, such as ones used for personal defense.

“I think people are wanting it for protection. Not only that, there is also the sport part of it for hunting and ‘plinking (or sport-shooting),’” she said.

Gerald Stoudemire, who is president of Gun Owners of South Carolina, said he believes the national poll might be skewed slightly because it is coming out of a state (Illinois) with relatively stricter gun laws than many others, like South Carolina.

“Any poll on gun ownership coming out of the anti-gun areas would be inaccurate,” Stoudemire said. “We have a good system in South Carolina.”

According to the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division’s website, there were more than 250,000 active concealed weapons permits in the state as of Feb. 10, 2015. There were 64, 412 permits issued in 2014. Of those, 27,705 were new permits and the remainder were permit renewals.

According to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, there have been 82,012 firearm background checks conducted in South Carolina within the last three months, surpassing the amount conducted in the same time last year by 8,780.

But those numbers are much smaller compared with those recorded in the same time period in 2013. The state saw an increase in background checks –114,203 – conducted in the first three months of 2013. The uptick, Stoudemire says, is because of President Barack Obama’s re-election.

“Two years ago gun ownership went wild. we were selling everything you could get in the door,” Gerald Stoudemire said. “That craze has ended. Now it’s more methodical. Now it’s I have a little extra money and I want another handgun.”

Those numbers do not represent a “one-for-one” when it comes to how many permits have been issued and how many firearms have been purchased. In South Carolina, someone who wants to buy a gun isn’t limited to just one.

State Sen. Todd Rutherford, D- Richland, said he owns a firearm, but wouldn’t want to disclose just how many firearms he owns because the federal government does not need to know.

“There is no process by which to register your firearm in the state,” Rutherford said. “I don’t want the government to know how many guns I own. I may own 10 guns and that is nobody’s business.”

Rutherford also pointed out that guns can be a pricey investment, making those who talk about how many guns they own a potential target for criminals.

State Rep. Mike Pitts, R- Laurens, said guns are a high priority for thieves, which is a primary reason to not disclose how many firearms someone owns.

“It’s like a guy that runs a pawn shop that carries a lot of cash in his wallet,” Pitts said. “He becomes a target for thieves. That would be the same reason people don’t want you to know how many guns they have.”

But if the gun business in the state is continuing to remain strong, who is buying up all the guns in the state?

Women, according to Gerald Stoudemire.

“At least 50 percent or more of our customers are women,” he said. “They are taking the concealed weapons permit training, they are learning firearm safety and they are learning how to shoot effectively.”

According to the survey, fewer women than men own guns, but the percentage among women has held fairly steady since 1980, with 12 percent now saying they own a firearm.

“I sell a lot of guns to women,” Gerald Stoudemire said. “If a woman comes in and is interested in purchasing a gun, I take her to the range and let her shoot a range of guns and see what she thinks.”

He women tend to lean more towards revolvers as opposed to semi-automatic handguns because they are easier to care for and a lot less trouble to handle.

“(Revolvers) don’t fail and it doesn’t take Superman to load it,” he said.