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Spurred to action

In the wake of the mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., nearly a month ago, 18-year-old Henry Cox of Medford is looking to buy his first semi-automatic weapon. Cox owns a shotgun that he uses mostly for bird hunting, but now he's looking for something with which to defend himself.

Some of Cox's friends and family are gun owners as well, and he has thought about getting a self-defense firearm for a while.

"Recent shootings have spurred me to get one much sooner," he says, testing out a rifle at Guns R-Us in Medford Wednesday. "Mass shootings, terrorist attacks ... it's much more common nowadays. I've got to make sure I have a gun with me as often as possible."

Cox plans to purchase the gun as soon as he gets his paycheck. When he's old enough to apply for a concealed handgun license at 21, he says, he'll pursue that as well.

Sales at local gun stores, attendance in firearm courses and requests for concealed handgun licenses suggest gun ownership is on the rise in Jackson County, though exact figures weren't immediately available.

Guns R-Us co-owner John Purtzr estimates that firearm and ammunition sales in his shop have risen 50 percent since the June 12 Orlando shooting, in which 49 died and many more were wounded. The sales of Glock handguns has "increased dramatically in the last couple weeks," he says. Employee Justin Lopez says premium special orders of AR-15 models rose after Orlando as well.

"They’re scared of gun control, politics," Purtzr says, adding that the threat of a potential price increase in the future may also affect buyers' behavior. Lopez says many of the customers he's seen in the last few weeks are first-time buyers.

Tom Sittingdown of Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford says he's noticed an increase in ammo sales, primarily in defense and practice ammunition.  

Rogue Valley Shooting Association president Phil Grammatica says that given the numerous reasons for purchasing guns, including collecting and sport shooting, it is nearly impossible to track which purchasers are buying guns for what reasons. But Grammatica says he’s noticed an increase in concern over active shooter situations, like the one in Orlando.

All firearm purchases and transfers, even from one private party to another, require background checks, according to state and federal law. Data on the number of firearm background checks conducted in Jackson County in the last three weeks is not yet available. 

Those wishing to carry concealed weapons must obtain a four-year license through their local sheriff's department. First-time applicants must complete a law enforcement- or National Rifle Association-approved competency course. Courses typically are four hours long and cover laws, safety and proper usage of firearms. Oregon is one of few states in which a competency course can be completed online without in-person, live-fire training, according to Jackson Country patrol Sgt. Dace Cochran.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Department sees an average of 300 license applications per month, including new applicants and renewals. The department took in 275 applications in May and 313 in June. Cochran says that he expects a higher influx of applications in July.

"Typically whenever there’s a shooting like this, or presidential talk about firearms restrictions, we do see a spike," he says.

Gun purchases in the last three weeks don't necessarily mean many more first-time buyers, Cochran says. "More than likely, (license) holders have more than one gun." 

Eric Yarborough, membership director of the Medford Rifle and Pistol Club, has been with the organization since 2002. Normally the club sees membership drop off during the summer months, he says, and the club cuts down its offering of free weekly classes. But this month has been an anomaly. In the last two weeks alone, he’s seen a spike in attendance, and subsequently, membership rates.

"We had a huge increase in membership after the Roseburg incident, and recently after Orlando," he says. The mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg in October 2015 left 10 dead and seven wounded.

Yarborough says attendance in the free classes spiked after the Orlando shooting, rising from a half-filled class on June 14 to an overbooked class on June 21. Given the unusually high interest, he says the club plans to keep to its weekly schedule.

Yarborough says that many of the attendees of the club's free classes are new to firearms, an indicator of new gun ownership in the community.

"These are people who've never owned guns. Recently, it’s people who don’t feel safe," he says, citing that they may have been driven to buy guns in light of shooting incidents and uncertainty about politics around gun laws.

Cathy DeForest, founder of Vision Quilt, an Ashland grassroots organization seeking to create dialogue about gun violence prevention, organized a National Gun Violence Awareness Day event in Ashland in June. She says she understands the reasons people may turn to purchasing firearms after mass shootings such as Orlando.

"I understand that people get afraid when we have threats like this," she says.

Vision Quilt, whose members include gun owners, veterans and survivors of gun violence, encourages an open dialogue around gun safety and gun violence, DeForest says. She believes that many people are safe and responsible, and that including gun owners in the conversation about gun violence and solutions to prevent it is imperative.

"Gun owners are very concerned about gun violence and understand what their weapons can do," she says.

Yet DeForest says the news of an increase in gun sales is worrying, given her concern for gun safety and preventing gun violence.

"The more guns there are in the world, the more precautions need to be taken," she says.

Reach Mail Tribune intern Hannah Golden at hgolden@mailtribune.com.

Henry Cox, 18, of Medford, tests out a firearm at Guns R-Us in Medford on Wednesday. After the shootings in Orlando , Cox says he has been spurred to find a gun for protection. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Alex Neuman, co-owner of Guns R-Us, says that gun sales are up in the last few weeks since the shooting in Orlando. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch