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A matter of personal safety: Sales of Tasers, pepper spray, handguns on the rise in Dickinson, western ND

Raymond Gentry, manager of Dakota Loan and Pawn in Dickinson, reaches for some pepper spray at the business Saturday.

Local merchants say sales of self defense products have doubled or tripled recently, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep enough in stock.

"My pepper spray, my stun guns, my handguns -- I can't keep them on the shelves," said Raymond Gentry, manager of Dakota Loan and Pawn. "A year ago, where a handgun might stay in my case for two months, now I'm lucky to keep that gun in the case 48 hours."

His sale of pepper spray and stun guns are up about 300 percent. Knife sales are up as well.

Steve Hunnicutt, president of Clean Sweep Vacuum Center, said sales of Tasers have increased there.

"Before, we sold six in two years, now, we've sold six in six months," he said. "It's a thriving business. It's sad, but you've got to do something to protect yourself."

He has sold hundreds of cans of pepper spray since summer.

"In this store, that was the No. 1 stocking stuffer," Hunnicutt said. "Since last summer, we've probably sold between 50 to 60 stun guns."

Greg Knutson, owner of Andrus Outdoors, said firearm sales at his store have increased 40 percent to 50 percent in recent months.

Doug Tyrrell, manager at Runnings Farm and Fleet, couldn't give an amount, but said the increase of handgun sales there is "significant."

All four businesses agreed much of the increase is driven by female customers or purchases in which a man gives a safety device to a woman.

Gentry said his pepper spray and stun guns are nearly all purchased for females, but men are becoming more interested in protecting themselves, too.

"When I can get and keep handguns, the guys are buying the handguns for themselves," Gentry said.

All four businesses also agreed sales went up with the area's population increase and then exploded when Sidney, Mont., math teacher Sherry Arnold went missing.

In addition, rumors of violence in Dickinson have been swirling for months.

"It's tons of people either buying into rumors or verified attacks that they don't know the full story on," Gentry said. "They just take the negativity and go, 'Well, I want to protect myself ... I want protection to make sure I'm not attacked.'"

Tyrrell said some of the increase may be because more people in the area means more customers. He added some firearm sales can be attributed to a mild winter.

"A lot of it is because the weather has been nice this winter and people want to be out and about doing things," Tyrrell said. "There's been so many more people in the area and people are looking for recreational outlets, but this Sidney thing definitely stirred up a lot more interest in personal defense."

Knutson said politics could also play into sales.

"It could be possibly because the election is coming up and people are concerned with what will happen with that, because you don't know if the next president is going to try to ban guns," he said. "You never know what's going to happen with firearm laws."

However the four businesses agree most sales are for those wanting to protect themselves.

Gentry said after living in Dickinson for 17 years, he too has a greater interest in personal protection.

"Up until two years ago, I didn't lock my doors and didn't carry personal defense items," he said. "Now everything I have is under lock and key and I carry a concealed weapon with me at all times. It's just because of the nature of our town now. It is not what it was three years ago."