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Fearful of ban, frenzied buyers swarm gun stores

The phones at gun shops across the country are ringing off the hook. Demand for firearms, ammunition and bulletproof gear has surged since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six teachers and administrators.

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No organization publicly releases gun sales data. The only way to measure demand is by the number of background checks that are conducted when someone wants to buy a firearm. Those numbers are released by the Federal Reserve Bureau every month. Data for December is not out yet. But the Federal Bureau of Investigation says that it did 16.8 million firearm background checks as of the end of November, up more than 2 percent from a year ago.

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The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which handles background checks for the state, can't keep up with the number of requests it is getting. The bureau has pulled staff from other units and increased its hours, says spokesperson Susan Medina.

Many firearm dealers and manufacturers say that Obama's comments since the Newtown school shooting are driving demand.

James Zimmerman of SelwayArmory.com, a website that sells guns, ammunition and knives, says that sales really took off on Dec. 19 after President Barack Obama held a White House press conference announcing that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a team tasked with coming up with "concrete proposals" to curb gun violence.

That day, one customer ordered 32,000 rounds of ammunition from SelwayArmory.com, worth close to $18,000. The order had to be shipped from the company's Lolo, Mont., office to Kentucky on a freight truck.

"I've done more sales in the week after the 19th than I have the whole year," says Zimmerman, who launched SelwayArmory.com in 2009.

At Lady Liberty Gunsmithing LLC in Atlantic City, N.J., a customer called last week asking if a pistol he wanted was available. When he was told there was only one left, he drove more than two hours from Newark, N.J., to buy it that same day.

"People want guns now even more than ever," says Guy Petinga II, whose father opened the store above his home in 1996.

Others saw demand immediately after the shooting.

Bullet Blocker, which makes bulletproof vests, briefcases and insert panels, saw sales of its children's backpacks suddenly jump.

"That's how I found out about the tragedy. I saw the sales rise and then turned on CNN," says Elmar Uy, vice president of business operations at the Billerica, Mass., company.

Bullet Blocker has sold about 50 to 100 bulletproof backpacks a day since the shooting, up from about 10 to 15 in a regular week. The children's backpacks, which are designed to be used as shields, cost over $200 each.

"I've never seen numbers like this before," says Uy.

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