RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia gun sales surged to an apparent record high in 2012.
State police statistics on gun buyers' mandatory criminal-background checks showed that there were 432,387 gun transactions last year, a 35 percent jump from 2011. Records show that it was the largest year-to-year increase in 20 years and the third-largest increase overall since Virginia's background check program was implemented in 1989.
The state's 2012 figures outpaced the nation as a whole, according to FBI data. A record 19.6 million transactions were conducted in the U.S. last year through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, up 20 percent from 2011.
Not all checks represent the sale of a gun, as some customers buy multiple firearms and other checks involve people reclaiming firearms that had been pawned. About 1 percent of the background checks in Virginia also typically result in people being denied permission to buy a weapon. Exact sales figures aren't recorded in Virginia.
Those in the industry say the state spike was fueled in part by the July 1 repeal of Virginia's one-handgun-per-month law and fears of increased gun restrictions after December's school shooting in Connecticut. Transactions in December rose 79 percent over the same month in 2011. Interest tends to increase customers fear for personal safety or worry that lawmakers might ban certain firearms.
"Given that the two largest month increases in background checks (November 2008 and December 2012) came following President Obama's election and President Obama's address about the Sandy Hook tragedy, I think it would be fair to say that individuals may be reacting to what they believe could be an attack on the right to own a gun by buying more firearms," Thomas R. Baker, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University's L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/VHUE7W ).
Baker, who specializes in criminology theory and studies gun-related issues, said fear of being a victim may also be driving sales.
Town Gun Shop Inc. stores in Martinsville and Chesterfield County set new company sales records "every day" during the week after the Sandy Hook shooting, said president Mark Tosh. He estimated that sales quadrupled over the same period in 2011.
Tosh said he has been in the retail firearms business for 31 years, "and nothing has come close to this."
Although business has been extremely good, he said he finds no joy in selling firearms under such circumstances.
"I hate to see sales as a result of such a heinous crime or tragedy," he said.