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ND gun ownership on the rise

GRAND FORKS -- This past year, the Forks Rifle Club just southwest of Grand Forks saw a 30 percent increase in membership, according to a club officer.

"It's across the board," said Tom Reiten, club secretary and treasurer. New members include longtime gun owners and those new to guns, he said.

The growing appetite for guns appears to be a trend statewide. Last year, the FBI received from North Dakota 29.6 percent more requests for the criminal background checks required for gun purchases than in 2010. That's a total of more than 61,000 checks.

The state leads a national trend that saw the number of criminal background checks increase 14.2 percent to 16.5 million. In Minnesota, the number of background checks rose 13.5 percent to 338,000.

The FBI warns that there isn't a one-to-one relationship between the number of background checks and the number of guns sold, but there is still some relationship.

In Bismarck, gun store owner Marlin Fried said his business is up by 25 percent in the last six months, which he attributes to new residents in the Oil Patch. He said has been in business more than 30 years but does not remember business being as busy.

Different reasons

Customers are buying guns for several reasons, Fried said.

"Just for everything -- protection, target shooting, hunting," he said.

Guns have been popular in North Dakota for a long time -- "It's part of our history," Reiten said -- and many newcomers in the state are buying guns for traditional outdoor sports, according to Fried.

But the gun dealer also thinks some people in the Oil Patch want to protect themselves in a region filling up with strangers. "It's like anyone. Most of them are good, but there's a few bad ones," he said. "It doesn't hurt to be protected."

Fried's sales of pepper spray have also increased, he said.

Ed "Thumper" Braun said he sold 500 weapons in 2011, compared to 360 in 2010, at his Belfield gun shop, which he runs as a weekend hobby. He said some people are buying guns because they are wary of new people moving into the area.

"I can recall some Christmas gifts given by husbands for their wives out of that concern," he said.

But a more important factor the bigger population, Braun said. He is used to sales to people with North Dakota drivers licenses and out-of-state home towns. And people have money to spend and places to hunt and shoot.

"The income is greater, so people have more money to spend on toys," he said.

Political factor

The number of background checks has been increasing since 2006, and some, including the National Rifle Association, have said higher gun sales are a reaction to electoral victories by Democrats and a belief they are bad for gun owners.

Reiten said that the increase in the gun club's membership could be from its new heated indoor shooting ranges, but he also cites what he believes are intentions by the president and attorney general to curtail gun rights.

"That's the objective of the current administration," he said. "I don't think there's any secret about that."

Fried, however, did not think people were buying guns because they think they are in danger of losing them.

"Just because we've got someone for president doesn't mean they're going to eliminate everything," he said.

To see the FBI reports, go to www.FBI.gov/about-us/cjis/nics.

Bjorke is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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