Gun shop owners wary of new restrictions

Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer of guns, as well as Dick’s Sporting Goods, recently decided to raise the minimum-age requirement for purchases of guns to 21. Dick’s also decided to eliminate the sale of anything resembling an assault-style weapon and high-capacity magazines.

The moves followed a deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school that stoked national tensions over the nation’s gun laws.

While some gun stores nationally reported increased sales in the aftermath of the shooting that killed 17, Rhode Island’s independent shops say it’s mostly been business as usual.

Some local shop owners, such as Kyle McCarthy, reported a recent increase in sales. But he says the uptick in activity at his Mid-State Gun Co. in Coventry is due to people using tax returns for discretionary purchases.

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In Rhode Island, he noted, the big-box retail stores didn’t carry a big supply of guns to begin with. Smaller, independent retailers are typically where local residents purchase firearms. Rhode Island has more than 15, based on an online search.

Their owners reported mixed feelings about their national counterparts’ actions, and about increasing pressure on Rhode Island legislators to rein in purchases of assault-style weapons.

“I never went into business to be in competition with Dick’s or Walmart,” said Dominic Calarco, owner of Island Gun Shop in Portsmouth. “I put out a fair price and that was it.”

If national retailers are moving away from gun and rifle sales, that’s their choice, he said. “They want to be politically correct, that’s fine and dandy. It’s not going to solve the problem … [of] making schools safer.”

He stopped selling the AR-15 rifles on his own, a few months ago, after noticing that the broader market price was wildly fluctuating, undercutting his own prices.

Several gun-shop owners say they will resist changes being recommended by some R.I. legislators that would make illegal a variety of products, including assault weapons, magazine capacities exceeding 10 or more and “bump stocks.”

McCarthy, for example, said he viewed most of the legislation as “well-intentioned but simply uneducated. People are ignorant [and] making laws.”

‘You have to be 21 to drink. Why not be 21 to buy a firearm?’
ROBERT GAGLIONE, Firearms Unlimited LLC owner

But not all gun-shop owners are against stricter standards for gun sales.

Russell Bertrand, owner of Cranston Gun & Coin, in North Kingstown, said in a voice-mail message that he had, on his own, long ago decided not to sell any assault-style rifles, including the AR-15, to anyone under age 21, unless they were in the store with a parent. “Outside of that, I just think you’re asking for trouble,” he said.

Robert Gaglione, owner of Firearms Unlimited LLC, in Exeter, said he could agree with a provision that selling guns should be restricted to people who are 21 or older.

It’s already illegal to sell a handgun to anyone under that age, he noted.

“You have to be 21 to drink. Why not be 21 to buy a firearm?” he said.