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Anticipating tougher laws, the Northland stocks up on guns, ammo

Steve Biondich of Aurora (right) came looking for .380 mm ammunition at the Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake. "You've got to stock up while you can," said Biondich. "I've checked 10 places in the last week and still haven't found it." Biondich is concerned that the current administration may restrict some opportunities for gun owners. Biondich was helped by store owner Scott VanValkenburg.(Bob King /

Tom Anderson jokingly refers to himself as a big fan of President Obama's "stimulus package."

Since the nation's 44th president took office, Anderson's sales of guns and ammunition have gone through the roof. He owns and operates T & J's Gun N Pawn in Cloquet, T & B Pawn & Gun in Hibbing and Northstar Pawn in Virginia.

Across the Northland, sales of firearms and ammunition have soared since November, creating shortages.

Steve Biondich called on Fisherman's Corner in Pike Lake on Thursday, searching for .380 caliber ammunition for a handgun he owns. But he came up empty.

"I've checked 10 places in the last week and still haven't found it," he said, explaining that all stores in the area seem to be out of stock.

If and when he finally does find a place selling .380 rounds, Biondich plans to load up.

"You have to stock up while you can," he said.

There's little question about the cause of the surge in demand for certain types of guns and ammunition, according to Ted Novin, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade organization representing the U.S. firearms industry.

"It's a direct result of gun owners' concerns about the current political climate on Capitol Hill and in statehouses across the country," he said, explaining that many people fear the passage of laws that could clamp down on handguns and/or military-style weapons.

Novin believes it's no coincidence that gun sales climbed to record levels immediately after the election of Obama.

In November 2008, the FBI reported more than

1.5 million background checks were performed to clear the way for gun sales -- up 42 percent from the same month in 2007.

And gun sales have held strong through the first quarter of this year. For the first three months of 2009, the FBI reports that nearly 4 million background checks were performed -- 27 percent more than during the same period last year.

The Obama administration has repeatedly expressed support for the Second Amendment and to date has made no efforts to restore a federal ban on the sale of new assault weapons or to enact any new controls on firearms.

"I don't see any policy changes, and I don't understand why people are getting so excited. They create their own crisis," said John Chalstrom, owner of Chalstrom Bait & Tackle in Rice Lake Township.

Chalstrom typically maintains a small stock of ammunition as a convenience for his sportsmen customers. He said his shop primarily caters to fishing and archery enthusiasts.

About three weeks ago, however, Chalstrom said word got out that his store still had ammunition, and the run began. Besides people stopping in, Chalstrom said he received a flood of phone calls.

"I knew there was something big going on, when we started getting calls from the Cities," he said.

In fact, Chalstrom sold his last three boxes of .40 caliber ammunition to a man from the Twin Cities who paid by credit card, and then made the long drive north to pick up his purchase.

Craig Rudd, a salesman at Superior Shooters Supply, said he, too, has been making many sales to buyers from the Twin Cities and beyond.

"A lot of people have been coming up Friday and Saturday," he said. Between guns and ammo, Rudd estimates the Superior shop's sales are up 50 percent to 60 percent from last year.

In addition to concerns about regulations, Rudd said some customers seem motivated by concerns about being able to defend their homes and families in the event that the nation's economic woes worsen.

"I think people are being a little paranoid," Chalstrom said.

But Scott VanValkenburg, owner of Fisherman's Corner, believes shooting enthusiasts have good reason to be concerned about the prospect of tighter regulations to come.

"I don't see it happening right away, but I think it will happen," he said, observing: "Obama is not an outdoorsman."

VanValkenburg also notes that Hillary Clinton, a vocal advocate for gun policy reform, plays a key role in the administration.

Some of the firearms in greatest demand recently are military-style weapons, such as the AR-15, and handguns, VanValkenburg said. Likewise, ammunition for many of these weapons has been in short supply.

"You can buy a gun but without any ammunition to shoot," he said.

"I've never seen anything like this in the past," said Joe Roberts, a Duluth resident and president of the United Northern Sportsman's Club, who said he sees no sign of the situation improving.

"I don't think this is a passing thing. I think it's going to get worse."