WINTERSVILLE - The owner of a local gun store says business is booming this holiday season, but gift-giving is only part of the reason.
He said a big segment of the buying public fears the backlash from a Dec. 14 massacre at a Connecticut school will bring a gun ban.
A lone gunman shot 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 before turning the gun on himself. Twenty of the victims were children, but teachers, the principal and a school administrator also numbered among the dead. The gunman also murdered his mother.
"It's because of the (president's) comments," Sportsman's Trading Post Owner Dave Viltro said. "When he said we have to ban guns or look at banning guns, that spurred people to want to get them before a ban is in effect. It's created a huge (demand)."
Viltro said they've been so busy at the Wintersville store, "we don't even have time to consider changes of any sort."
"But I've always been cautious who I sell to, anyway," he added.
Viltro, who's been in the business for more than 30 years, said he doesn't feel pressured to do things differently despite the high-profile Connecticut shootings.
"We don't like to just sell a gun for selling a gun's sake," he said. "We've always tried to make sure the person we're selling to is responsible and, of course, mentally capable of handling it. We carry on a conversation with the customer, make an analysis. And, of course, we do background checks and everything else that's required (by law)."
Viltro said he makes a point of asking customers a lot of questions and then gauging their responses. "I'll ask them why they're looking, why they're interested in owning a gun - is it for protection, is it just for fun. And if they start getting squirrelly, I just kind of shut everything down," he said.
"I have turned people down. If I get a vibe, if I get the feeling the customer just doesn't seem mentally capable of handling it, I just tell them I don't feel comfortable selling to them. That's my right as an entrepreneur; I can sell you something or I cannot sell it. I've tried to instill that same thinking into my employees, that they're not here just to sell guns."
And once purchased, Viltro said gun owners have a responsibility to keep weapons secured, particularly when there are children in the home or if they have reason to believe a family member is unstable.
"Child-proof safety locks are given out with every gun sold," he said. "The guns (the Connecticut school shooter used) should have been locked away."
A spokesman for Wal-Mart, meanwhile, said via e-mail the retail giant has "made no change to the assortment of guns we sell in our stores," while Dick's Sporting Goods did not respond directly to inquiries, posting a brief message on its website noting they were "extremely saddened by the unspeakable tragedy" and, as a sign of respect, had "suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all our stores chainwide."