On a weekday morning in January, business is steady at Northwest Armory, a gun store on an Oregon state highway just south of Portland.
Customers lean over glass cases to look at handguns or run their fingers along the polished wood of hunting rifles that line the aisles, aimed at the ceiling. AR-15s hang on hooks and ammunition boxes are stacked up behind a sales clerk, who leans over to talk to an older couple.
Oregon has a lot of gun owners. There are hunters and target shooters, ranchers who carry guns to guard their livestock against predators, and collectors. And a lot of men and women in Oregon carry guns to protect themselves.
From time to time, they all find themselves in a place like the Northwest Armory. They might be more inclined to visit after announcements like President Obama’s executive order earlier this week.
Are sales more brisk at Northwest Armory since Tuesday morning?
“Well, you got to remember, we had a snowstorm,” Karl Durkheimer said with a laugh. He and his wife own the Northwest Armory.
Durkheimer says that December 2015 was one of his best months in 20 years — Christmas is a big gun-buying occasion across the country — and the trend is continuing in January, despite the unexpected snow and ice. Durkheimer says customers are reacting to recent terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and in Paris, as well as the Obama administration’s approach to guns — and a general discomfort many have toward the president’s politics.
“There’s a segment of society — a vast segment of society — that looks at him and says ‘if he says black, I’m going to say white, if he says up, I’m going to go down,’ ” Durkheimer said, adding that while there’s been a divide before, “I believe it’s worse than it’s ever been.”
The store owner didn’t agree with the additional rules Obama announced this week. He said that background checks already keep guns away from convicted felons and some people suffering from mental illness, and that instead of tightening those rules, police should more aggressively enforce gun laws and regulations already in place.
Durkheimer said gang violence in cities like Chicago provides a good opportunity for that.
“If I was the governor of Illinois, I would declare a state of emergency. I would take the National Guard, or whatever it took, and you’d have them on every street corner where this violence is occurring, and then I would enforce existing laws so that there was a zero tolerance for this senseless violence,” Durkheimer said.
He questioned whether Obama’s executive order, and the timing of it, might be more about distracting the American public from other pressing problems, such as the emerging conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
It may be too soon to tell whether the executive order will have much effect on gun sales at shops like the Northwest Armory. Some customers have noticed that past gun control efforts have driven up prices and made some products harder to get, mostly because of increased customer demand.
Erin Stoffel stopped by the Northwest Armory to pick up a special-order purple handgun he ordered for his wife weeks ago. It still hadn’t come in. Stoffel hadn’t heard President Obama’s announced executive order on guns, and had mixed feelings about what Obama proposed — and how he proposed it.
“I appreciate that a lot of people out there are concerned about violence and crime rates, and so I don’t know that necessarily I begrudge, certainly, a president doing what he can to stall violence,” Stoffel said. “But as far as trying to circumvent Congress, that bothers me — that’s concerning.”
Durkheimer and his customers generally were skeptical about the effect of the rules. Durkheimer sees additional regulations likely making it harder for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns, without doing much to crack down on criminal gun possession.
Durkheimer said that gun shop owners don’t want to put guns in the wrong hands, and that he had turned away men who smelled of alcohol, and a tearful young woman who seemed to be having a breakdown. But he also recalled an elderly man having to wait months for a collectible — because a background check flagged a college prank from 60 years before.
Durkheimer hopes government leaders can find a “middle path” that helps gun sellers and law-abiding customers.