SALT LAKE CITY — When Ken Larson’s 1-year-old son starts school in a few years, he’ll be carrying an armored backpack.
After the Connecticut school shooting, Larson and his wife decided to buy him one just to be safe. Larson already owns one himself that he takes to movie theaters.
“It’s a no brainer. My son’s life is invaluable,” said Larson, 41, of Denver. “If I can get him a backpack for $200 that makes him safer, I don’t even have to think about that.”
The reaction to the deadly Connecticut school shooting can be seen at gun stores and self-defense retailers across the nation, with anxious parents buying armored backpacks for children and firearms enthusiasts stocking up on semiautomatic rifles in anticipation of tighter gun control measures.
While a spike in gun sales is common after a mass shooting, the latest rampage has generated record sales in some states, particularly of assault weapons.
Colorado set a single-day record for gun background check requests the day after the shootings, while Nevada saw more checks in the two days that followed than any other weekend this year. Records were also set in Tennessee, California and Virginia, among others.
Many gun-purchasers declined to comment to The Associated Press this week, citing a perceived bias in the media and fear of being singled out by law enforcement, but firearms instructor Greg Taggart said most are out buying the weapons “because they can.”
The 54-year-old gun-owner from Plano, Texas, said he purchased one of his two AR-15 type assault rifles, similar to the one the gunman used last Friday in an attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 people, including 20 children, three days before then-President Bill Clinton’s 1994 ban on new sales took effect. It expired in 2004, and a similar ban is being considered in Congress again.
“There was a serious concern that I wouldn’t be able to get one in the future,” Taggart said Thursday, noting he also bought the weapon for another reason.
“I, as a law-abiding citizen, was morally insulted” by the previous ban, he said.
Some gun shop owners stopped selling remaining stocks of assault weapons, anticipating only more interest and value after President Barack Obama on Wednesday instructed his administration to create concrete proposals to reduce gun violence.
Robert Akers, a Rapid City, S.D., gun seller who specializes in military-style weapons, said the rush of customers had transformed his Rapid Fire Firearms store into a “madhouse” and that he’s not actively selling the guns.
“The price is only going to go up higher,” he said.
There was also an unusual increase in sales for armored backpacks designed to shield children caught in shootings, according to three companies that make them.
The armor inserts fit into the back panel of a child’s backpack, and sell for up to $400, depending on the retailer. The armor is designed to stop bullets from handguns, not assault weapons like the one used in the shooting at the Newtown, Conn., school.
Manufacturers and some parents say that while they don’t guarantee children won’t be killed, they could be useful shields.
Some experts, however, say sending children to school in armored backpacks is not a healthy response to fear about mass shootings. Anne Marie Albano, psychiatry director at Columbia University’s Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, said parents should convey calmness, not anxiety.
“This is not serving to keep children safe,” she said. “This is serving to increase their fear and their suspicion of their peers.”
At Amendment II in Salt Lake City, sales of its children’s backpacks and armored inserts have increased, with 200 purchase requests Wednesday alone.
“The incident last week highlights the need to protect our children,” co-owner Derek Williams said. “We didn’t get in this business to do this. But the fact is that our armor can help children just as it can help soldiers.”
Kerry Clark, president of Texas-based Backpackshield.com, began making the backpacks after the deadly mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. Clark said he sold 15 backpacks Wednesday. Prior to Friday’s shooting, he said, the company would sometimes go an entire month with one sale.
Bullet Blocker, a Massachusetts-based company that sells the backpack armor, declined to provide sales numbers but noted that recent figures were substantially higher.
Sales of assault weapons also were on the rise.
Austin Cook, general manager of Hoover Tactical Firearms in suburban Birmingham, Ala., said the spike in sales since Friday’s shootings has been so intense that federal background checks that typically take five minutes or less are now taking up to an hour.
Cook said about 50 people were waiting in line for his store to open the morning after the shootings, and that he’s since sold nearly all of his assault weapons.
“I can’t keep them in the store,” Cook said.
In Pittsburgh, Dick’s Sporting Goods said it was suspending sales of modern rifles nationwide because of the shooting. The company also said it’s removing all guns from display at its store closest to Newtown.
Aaron Byrd, co-owner of Patriot Shooting Sports in Youngsville, N.C., is sold out of AR-15 rifles, ammo for those types of guns and high-capacity magazines.
“Things have been crazy the past couple of days ... They’re worried that the government’s going to ban semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines,” he said. “I think it is a knee-jerk reaction by both parties — both the government and the citizens.”
Skoloff reported from Phoenix. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed and Mitch Weiss in North Carolina; Scott Sonner in Nevada; Steven K. Paulson in Colorado; Dirk Lammers in South Dakota; Pam Ramsey in West Virginia; Matt Gouras in Montana; and Jay Reeves in Alabama.