GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Colorado residents are exercising their Second Amendment rights in record numbers.
Gun sales surged to a new high before President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. One year later, gun sales surpassed the record set in 2008, despite the recession's strong grip.
According to data from the Instacheck Unit of CBI, the office that handles statewide background check requests for any firearm transaction, the office approved 196,980 total background checks in 2008. In 2009, CBI approved 202,613, about half of which were handgun sales.
November 2009 saw a drop in background check approvals or transactions when compared to the same month in 2008, down from 29,110 to 16,469. But December 2008 had more than 25,000 transaction approvals alone. While December 2009 didn't top the same month in 2008, the year ended on a very strong note with more than 20,000 approvals.
When the Post Independent spoke to CBI spokesman Lance Clem in January, before the final numbers for 2009 were released, he expected the 2009 totals to be higher than the previous year's.
"There was a real surge in gun sales right after the [presidential] election," Clem said. "I don't think that it will be quite that many in December, but the total probably will exceed the 2008 total."
Clem said that CBI has been very busy this year keeping up with the increase in background check requests. But the office has managed to keep the requests to under 30 minutes. The average time for a background check to process in December was 23 minutes, according to CBI statistics. Instacheck also reported a 3 percent increase of gun dealers using the online Instacheck verification rather than calling in on the phone, with 88 percent of total checks happening over the Internet.
Sure to follow any increase is a decrease. And local dealers say that they are expecting to see a decrease in sales very soon. According to Edward Wilks, owner of the Tradesman in Rifle, 2009 guns sales were through the roof, but the market is beginning to cool down to pre-Obama levels.
"It was just nuts," Wilks said.
In Wilks' opinion, there was a huge spike in demand before Obama took office, and supplies diminished, which created the surge. And now the market is equalizing out, he said.
"It's starting to be normal again," Wilks said.
Wilks said that sales will eventually drop off. However, it's not that gun sales will drop from normal levels, but rather just return to normal.
"We don't like to see a spike [in sales]," Wilks said. "Because now we'll see a drop. And really, we are just leveling off."
However, Wilks said that he's seen a transition from people interested in purchasing firearms leading up to the 2008 elections, to people focusing more on educational and training courses to learn the proper use of the weapon. And, he said, courses like the Concealed Carry Permit course that he offers have become very popular.
And the majority of people buying guns from Wilks, and who are signing up for personal protection courses, are women, he said.
Where before Wilks would have 12 students a month enrolled in the personal protection courses he offers, he is now seeing upwards of 36 students a month. And the big switch is that where the dozen or so were predominantly men, the overwhelming majority are now women, he said.
"A lot of women are buying the firearm, getting the training, and now we see them getting the permit to carry them," Wilks said.
New Castle resident Sarah Cox, 24, said that shooting firearms was just part of life growing up in Western Colorado.
"I grew up shooting targets, but I did not actually own a gun," Cox said.
That changed in 2008 when Cox purchased her first handgun - a Walther P22. She, like many others, purchased a gun for safety.
"For the most part I bought it for personal protection," Cox said.
As Wilks has seen over the past year, Cox, also signed up for his personal protection course.
"Anytime I was around a gun, I was usually with someone who knows what they are doing. I wanted to be more independent of that," Cox said.
While Cox has yet to get her Concealed Carry Weapons Permit (CCW), it is something that she is interested in. That's another trend that Wilks says has been on the increase over the past couple of years.
"More and more people are saying, 'I want that responsibility,'" Wilks said.
More than 92,000 people have been approved for a CCW permit statewide, since June 2003. One-third of those permits were approved in 2009 alone. And nearly half of that total came in the past two years.
According to Instacheck CBI statistics, 18,411 people were approved for a CCW permit in 2008. The number increased by more than one-third last year to 30,258. Instacheck reported also that more than 5,400 applications were denied for various reasons, some including prior felony, or even weapons convictions.
Garfield County saw a significant increase in 2009 as well in CCW permits issued; from 324 in 2008, to 499 issued in 2009, according to the Garfield County Sheriff's Office.
While Clem was surprised at the increase in CCW permit background checks, he said that there was really no way to determine the reason for the increase.
"I don't think there is really any way to tell specifically why" the increase was so high, Clem said.