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Guns on front page of Reading Eagle 11/25
Nothing too bad or unexpected.

Quote:Going great guns

Cabela's, hunting, other factors make Berks hub for firearms sales

There it was, a nice little perforation so thrillingly close to the center of the paper target that 12-year-old Jason Hollenbach, black-barreled .22-caliber pistol in hand, could not hide his satisfaction.

His dad, Dave Hollenbach, ate it up.

"See, like there, when he turned around with that smile on his face, that was priceless," he said. "I love doing this with him."

Saturday mornings at Neversink Gun Club mean big-time firearms bonding for father and son. Jason, with his father's supervision, started plinking soda and beer cans with a pellet gun in his Exeter Township backyard four years ago. Now, he scores bull's-eyes with a .22 at the Neversink target range.

That sort of passion for firearms is exceptionally strong in Berks County. Statistics prove it.

Last year, Berks logged more firearm sales and transfers than any other county in Pennsylvania.

There were 24,478 rifles, shotguns or other long guns sold in the county, a total nearly 58 percent higher than Allegheny County, the second-busiest. And, for the first time in recent years, Berks claimed the top spot in handgun sales and transfers, logging 20,123, slightly more than Allegheny County's 20,007.

Many factors drive sales in Berks.

The area possesses a rich heritage of hunting, trap shooting and target shooting. Never-before gun buyers, fearing crime, have armed themselves. President Barack Obama's less-than-enthusiastic position on firearms has flushed out buyers who believe the president may orchestrate a gun clampdown.

One factor, though, has truly jolted sales stats in Berks. Trooper Paul Anderson, supervisor of the firearm administrative section of the Pennsylvania State Police, summed it up in one word: Cabela's.

State's biggest gun seller

The store that crowns a Tilden Township hill off Interstate 78 has become a major purveyor of firearms.

"It has had a major influence in firearms sales, at least within the Northeast corridor," said Bob Sproesser, a Greenwich Township electrical engineer who is chairman of Berks Area Friends of NRA, a group associated with the National Rifle Association, and also is secretary of the Berks County Amateur Trapshooting League. "People are flocking there

"No matter what you want, you can walk into that store and they have it," he said.

Inside Cabela's, resting on tiers of green felt in a long line of glass cases, is a smorgasbord of handguns. They include black Beretta 9 mm pistols, tiny derringers, even a "pink lady" .38-caliber pistol that is pink.

Above the handgun cases, poised in semicircular clusters, stands a huge assortment of rifles. The store also has its own "gun library" containing exceptional and hard-to-find weapons.

Cabela's declined requests for an interview.

But several Berks dealers and residents versed in gun sales said they believed the store had sold as many as 30,000 guns in a year.

Anderson, the state police firearms administrator, said that figure was "slightly high but not out of the ballpark," and it might be accurate if sales of black-powder weapons were included.

"Cabela's is the number one seller of firearms in the state of Pennsylvania," Anderson said.

In 2002, the year before Cabela's opened, 9,461 firearm sales or transfers occurred in Berks. Last year, there were 44,601, an increase of about 472 percent.

The success of Cabela's has not destroyed all competition. At least two local gun dealers said they benefit when out-of-area shoppers come to Cabela's, check out the inventory, then go in search of nearby stores to price shop.

State Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said Cabela's did not bring firearms enthusiasts to Berks. Rather, he said, it was the rich history of hunting statewide and in Berks, where more than 17,000 adult hunting licenses were issued in the county last year, that brought Cabela's.

Sproesser said of the Berks region: "It is basically the trapshooting hub of the entire hemisphere. Or the world."

Ernest Ressler, president of the South End Gun Club in Exeter Township, said the word among shooters is that the four-county, Lehigh-Berks-Lebanon-Lancaster area may have the highest concentration of gun clubs in the U.S.

A nonrecreational factor also is feeding gun sales.

That factor is fear.

Protecting the home

"People are afraid," said Bill Pickup, owner of the Gun Traders store in Leesport and a 40-year veteran of selling firearms. "The police can't defend them. We have elderly people coming in here crying because they don't want to be in their homes late at night."

A decade ago, Gun Traders sold 250 to 300 guns a year. Now, Pickup said, it sells about 2,500 a year.

Much of the increase is due to the store's recent move to a high-profile location on Pottsville Pike. Some of it, though, is tied to a growing desire for home protection.

Handguns and short-barreled shotguns, weapons that make for easier maneuvering in hallways and small rooms than long guns, are particularly popular, Pickup said.

People who wish to carry a concealed handgun outside of their home must possess a Pennsylvania license to carry, obtained through the sheriff's department.

The number of carry licenses issued in Berks has climbed sharply in the past 10 years, from 1,684 in 2002 to 6,864 in 2011, said Sheriff Eric J. Weaknecht.

"Crime has a lot to do with it," he said. "We notice spikes when there is a violent crime in the city or county."

At Sensibly Armed Personal Protection Training in St. Lawrence, where a four-hour basic NRA gun safety course costs $125, and popular pistols include the Springfield XD 9 mm and the Smith & Wesson .38 Special, owner Mike Collingwood said many first-time handgun buyers are people in their 60s.

"It is almost all personal protection and home protection," Collingwood said.

Issues for police

The boom in legal gun sales gives police something to consider.

Paul R. Stolz Jr., police chief in Caernarvon Township and president of the Berks County Chiefs of Police Association, said the statistics make it more likely that officers dispatched to volatile situations can encounter gun-wielding residents.

"Who is holding that gun?" he said.

Reading Police Chief William M. Heim said the statistics, by themselves, mean little to law enforcement. But he is concerned about theft.

Heim said owners of legally purchased weapons are urged not to leave them in cars and to properly secure doors and windows of their homes. Stolen guns have their own market. He said city police frequently arrest people who possess them.

"That is the concern of law enforcement," he said. "Guns that are in the hands of people who cannot lawfully possess them. And, guns that are illegally sold or exchanged."

Regulations require that sales transactions that are conducted at gun dealers involve background checks. Federal forms must be filled out.

But there is no requirement that a seller record the reason a purchaser wants a gun.

One dealer said that at least a few customers have bought weapons to stock "end-of-times" bunkers they are preparing for Dec. 21. That date has been cited in doomsday predictions by some who give special significance to the Mayan calendar.

Pickup has declined to sell to some people.

About a month ago, he refused to sell a gun to a woman whose husband subsequently cursed at Pickup. The man, Pickup said, was a convicted felon.

Another dealer, Robert Horst of Robeson Township, said the federal government allows him to say no to worrisome customers.

"I have the right to deny you a gun," he said.

The Obama factor

Obama has been a boon for gun sellers.

"When Obama was elected president, things went crazy," said Richard Stuebner, owner of Dick's Gun Shop in Lower Heidelberg Township. "If you look at Obama's history, he was totally, totally anti-gun."

Investors had a hunch Obama's re-election would boost gun sales. The stock price of gun maker Smith & Wesson surged 10 percent immediately after the election.

Several dealers who were present at a Philadelphia gun show the weekend after the election said business took off.

Howard Rohrbach, owner of the gun accessory and service shop PSFSD Inc. in Wyomissing, ran a stand at the Philadelphia show and was doing business last weekend at a show at Leesport Farmers Market.

"Sales are rocketing," he said. "They are skyrocketing."

Weaknecht, the Berks sheriff, said Obama's presence in the White House did pump up carry-license applications. But Berks' long and rich relationship with firearms, he said, also has been a huge factor.

"Our gun clubs are probably as busy as they have ever been," he said.

Dave and Jason Hollenbach are helping it stay that way.

Dave Hollenbach said his son mastered safety steps with his pellet gun and then with a .22 rifle before he started target shooting with the pistol.

Jason, a seventh-grader at Exeter Junior High School, stands at distances of 15 to 25 yards from the target. He has learned some of the shooter's art.

"You have to breathe in and out, and then squeeze the trigger," he said.

For Dave Hollenbach, few things are as good as Saturday mornings on the range with Jason.

"It is a big bond for a father and son," he said.

Contact Ford Turner: 610-371-5037 or

[Image: lowsigjpg.jpg]
Enjoyed some of the comments at the end of the article.

I see they gave Rob Horst a one-liner in there. I do all of my transfers with him now instead of driving out to Topton. Rob's a hell of a good guy.
John Fritz, recovering Statist
17000 licenses in berks? Sounds kind of low.Shrug
Shrug Ive got my eyes on you

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