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The increased calls for gun control may be prompting more Michigan residents to purchase firearms and learn how to use them.

It’s a cycle that’s played out several times: After a high-profile mass shooting, there’s an outcry by some for legislation they say would make it more difficult for bad actors to purchase guns — and then firearm sales spike.

Since Feb. 14, when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many pundits, politicians and students have demanded tougher restrictions on firearms.

The gun control debate rekindled after a May 18 shooting that left eight students and two teachers dead in Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.

While it’s impossible to determine why more people are buying guns and signing up for training, statistics show there has been an increase in sales and concealed pistol licenses issued since the Parkland shooting, while firearms trainers say more people are joining their classes.

According to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, a record 2.7 million firearm background checks were performed in March nationwide, followed by 2.2 million checks in April, the most ever for that month. Background checks in February and March increased 9.27 percent over the same period last year. From 2013 to 2017, the number of firearm background checks nationwide rose from 21.1 million to 25.2 million.

In Michigan, the number of CPLs issued statewide has soared by 342 percent over the past 15 years, from 31,121 in 2003-04 to 137,624 in 2016-17.

From February through April, CPLs issued in Michigan rose from 40,239 in 2017 to 41,658 this year, although the 2018 total is down from the 52,004 permits issued during the same period in 2016.

In Macomb County, CPLs issued from February through April rose from 3,817 in 2017 to 4,086 this year, although that’s down from the 5,237 licenses issued in 2016. Oakland County saw a slight uptick during the same period this year (4,717 in 2018, up from 4,674 in 2017, and down from 5,827 in 2016); while in Wayne County, new CPLs issued from February to April dropped to 7,053 this year from 7,639 in 2017, and 9,618 in 2016.

Local gun shop owners say they’ve seen a bump in sales since the Parkland shooting, though they added it’s difficult to tell whether the incident is driving the uptick or if it’s other factors.

“It was going to be a strong year in the firearms industry anyhow, because it’s an election year, and politics drive the industry to a certain extent,” said Jeff Felts, owner of Center Mass gun shop and range in Livonia. “With the tragedy in Parkland, I think that’s added to sales.

“A lot of people are worried they’ll lose their rights, and when that happens, it drives up sales in the industry,” said the former police sniper.

Mike Barbour, owner of Top Gun Shooting Sports in Taylor, said he’s seen a “little increase in sales, but it’s hard to say why, since this time of year is busy for us anyway, because people get their tax checks back. But I’m sure some of it has to do with the (Parkland) shooting.”

Barbour believes the Parkland incident prompted hundreds of school employees to sign up for training after he announced on social media he would provide free classes to educators. Following the Parkland shooting, some people said it would be a good idea to arm some teachers, while others rejected the notion.

“After that shooting happened, I was sitting there watching all these news reports coming out, with superintendents of schools and teachers being interviewed saying arming teachers is the worst thing ever,” Barbour said. “But I’ve talked to teachers; you can’t tell me someone who is willing to shield their kids with their bodies wouldn’t opt to have a firearm to protect those same kids.

“I threw out on social media that we’d provide free training for school staff,” Barbour said. “That was on a Thursday night, a few weeks after the shooting. The next day was a snow day, and schools were off. I had packs of teachers coming in. We signed up 400 people into those classes from 35 different schools. It exploded so quickly we have classes going into June.”

Linda Brundage of the Michigan Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence says her organization advocates for “common sense gun legislation” and tougher background checks to purchase guns. She insists the increase in gun sales and participation in training is due to “fear-mongering” by the National Rifle Association.

“The NRA is the lobbying group for gun manufacturers, and they use those shootings as a way to drum up sales,” Brundage said. “After every mass shooting like Parkland, they say ‘they’re coming for your guns; go out and buy another one.’

“You can go on any NRA site and there will be something on there about how they’re coming for your guns,” she said. “They’re using fear to sell guns: ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re coming to get you; you’d better arm yourself against the government; your neighbor is going to break into your house. Be afraid, be afraid, go out and buy a gun.’”

William Kucyk, owner of Action Impact gun shop and range in Southfield and Eastpointe, said the fear of home invasions is real for his customers.

“If you live in Bloomfield Hills, you’re not going to bed afraid someone will break into your house,” Kucyk said. “But the majority of my customers come from Detroit and the adjacent cities, and there’s a very real possibility that someone will break in — and they want to be prepared if that happens.”

Much of the gun debate after the Parkland incident focused on the AR-15 rifle, the weapon used in that mass shooting and similar incidents. Some pundits called for banning the rifle — which Kucyk said resulted in more sales.

“I saw a spike in AR-15 sales when they were talking AR restrictions,” Kucyk said. “Some people will say, ‘I thought about buying an AR, and now that they’re talking about doing away with it, I’d better get one.’ It was a short period of time that we saw the spike, but there was a spike.”

Firearms instructor Rick Ector said he’s seeing a rush of women signing up for training.

For six years, Ector has provided free firearms training to women at Top Gun Shooting Sports, and he said there’s been a steady increase of participants. This year, a record 700 women from ages 12 to 87 participated in the May 20 event, breaking last year’s record of 600 trainees.

“Any time anyone is victimized, especially the most vulnerable people — senior citizens and women — the natural response from the victims is, they need to take a more active role to protect themselves,” Ector said. “A firearm is the way to do that, if there’s appropriate training.”

Julia Beaubien of Redford went through Ector’s training last year, and said it’s helped her feel “more aware.”

“It’s made me more conscious of where I am, what’s surrounding me, things like that,” said Beaubien, 32. “You’re thinking four or five steps ahead, because you don’t want to have to call your attorney and say ‘I had to use my gun.’ I don’t plan on having to use it, but if I do I know I’ll be ready.”

Detroit police Chief James Craig, who made national headlines after he told The Detroit News in 2014 he thought the city’s crime rate would be lower if more “good Americans” carried firearms, said he’s also seeing more women learning to shoot.

“I’ve been the guest speaker at CPL classes, and I’m routinely seeing 60-70 people in the class — all women,” Craig said. “A lot of law-abiding citizens just want to be safe, and as long as they get the proper training and are responsible gun owners, I welcome that.”

ghunter@detroitnews.com

CPLs issued

in Michigan

Year

CPLs

2016-17

137,624

2015-16

170,961

2014-15

120,548

2013-14

115,990

2012-13

118,025

Source: Michigan State Police

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