Foreign and domestic terrorism. Natural disasters. Deranged assailants. Embattled police. Pandering politicians. Increased gun restrictions. All of these have been cited as key reasons that Americans are seeking to arm themselves like never before. “Barack Obama is the best gun salesman this country has ever seen,” asserts Ben Rosenshine, co-owner of Blueline Tactical Supply & Shooting Sports in Elmsford. “Every time the president talks about guns and how to restrict them, we see an uptick in sales and application requests.”
The trend Rosenshine refers to seems to be more than anecdotal. Recent estimates cite a 40 percent increase in the legal sale of handguns in New York State in the last five years alone, and Westchester appears to be following suit. “Forty percent sounds about right for this area, too,” says Rosenshine, whose gun-safety classes have seen a more than 50 percent increase in enrollment in the past two years. (“We used to have empty seats; now we have waiting lists,” he reports.)
Mike Timlin, proprietor of RT Smoke N Gun Shop in Mount Vernon—who says that in the past three to four years, home-defense shotgun and handgun applications at his store are up approximately 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively—points out there are many factors other than politics that are stimulating a heightened interest in gun ownership. “The effect of the shootings in places like San Bernadino, Paris, and Newtown cannot be overstated,” Timlin says, adding that natural disasters like Katrina and Sandy also have a discernible impact on sales. He further points to “the immediacy and sophistication of social media, which have transformed what used to be regional stories into global ones.”
And it’s not just men who are increasingly looking to pack some heat. “By far, the fastest-growing demographic is women,” says Rosenshine, whose wife, Dawn, is an instructor at Blueline. “Women ages 25 to 45 are where most of the new [sales] activity is occurring,” adds Timlin, “and it’s married women just as much as single women.”
“Women these days don’t feel entirely comfortable relying on a man, the government, the police, or anyone else to protect them in this increasingly dangerous world,” says Caren Landis, a retired schoolteacher from Clarkstown and avid gun-rights advocate.
Meanwhile, Rosenshine advises Westchesterites looking to purchase handguns to be patient, as there are only four law-enforcement officers in the county currently processing pistol-permit applications, so waiting times are close to a year.
So, what are people buying? Timlin (whose wife, Denine, also partners with him at RT) says the best sellers are defensive shotguns (which feature a shorter barrel), conventional 9mm and .45 caliber 1911 handguns (especially Rugers, Glocks, and Smith & Wessons), and pocket pistols, which offer the stopping power of larger handguns but are more easily concealed.
“But make no mistake, what’s been driving people into the store the past few years are the assault rifles,” says Timlin, “but the laws that have been put in place by federal, state and local government drive them back out again, as it’s almost impossible to buy a traditional AR at this point.”