Employees of the Butler County Sheriff's Office are skipping coffee breaks and working through lunch to keep pace with applications for gun-carry permits.
A firearms dealer in Washington County has so much counter business that he hardly has a minute to talk. And the owner of Sportsman's Supply in Summit has hired extra staff to handle the increased foot traffic at his business.
As Congress talks about gun control, Pittsburgh-area residents seem to be sure-fire interested in ensuring that they have in their homes the weapons and ammunition they want and the legal authorization to carry those items with them.
Sheriff's offices in Allegheny and Butler counties report skyrocketing increases in applications for carry permits in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut late last year. That massacre of 20 elementary children and six school employees spurred President Barack Obama to ask Congress to consider a series of gun control measures. And that seems to have spawned the uptick in both the carry permits and corresponding increase in business at area firearms businesses.
Ben Romanoff, manager of Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa., said he has seen an increase in foot traffic and that "there's definitely a concern about any new regulations that may come down from the government" regarding weapons.
He's so busy that a message at his business's phone number indicates that "due to current high in-store traffic," the call may not be answered. In fact, he's so busy that he says he can't talk for more than a minute on a recent Friday because so many customers are waiting to be served.
"People are saying they have a fear of losing their Second Amendment rights,'' he said, noting that a lot of customers are buying higher-capacity magazines, the kind that have come under fire by some proponents of adopting new gun control measures.
He said he has also noticed that the Pennsylvania "instant-check" system -- the process employed by firearms dealers to do background checks before purchases are completed -- is taking much longer, apparently due to increased demand.
Grant Williams, president of Sportsman's Supply in Summit, said he did four times the business in January as compared to January a year ago.
"I think there's concern that legislation will be passed [that will limit firearms and related supply purchases]. People around here don't like being told what to do and what not to do,'' he said.
The increase in business has included a range of purchases, he said.
Mr. Williams has brought on extra staff to handle the boost in business. He said he notes a direct connection to the Sandy Hook shootings and the resultant gun control talk.
"I am sad that my business is going well based on someone's lives beings taken. It sickens me. I'm not feeling great about it," he said.
As business hums at firearms dealerships, area sheriffs say they are being pressed to process more and more applications for gun carry permits. In Pennsylvania, a person is required to apply for a carry permit if he wants to be able to carry a concealed weapon or transport it in a vehicle without having to take precautions like separating the ammunition from the weapon.
Butler County Sheriff Mike Slupe said there was "a huge spike" since Sandy Hook and legislators' subsequent discussion about gun control.
Between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2011, 354 applications for carry permits were processed. During the same period in December 2012, the figure was 1,031. Applications about doubled between 2011 and 2012: from 3,667 in 2011 to 7,312 in 2012.
As of Jan. 29, 1,038 applications had been processed, compared with 379 in January 2012 and 262 in January 2011.
"In Butler County, people are very aware of the Second Amendment rights and they fear that the federal government is going to come into their homes and take their guns. I guess they think they'll be grandfathered," he said, referring to a legal concept that involves being exempted from new regulations if they obtain their weapons, ammunition and permits before any new regulations are adopted.
Sheriff Slupe said his staff has been skipping breaks and working extra hours to keep pace with applications, a state form with 12 questions that seek information that can be used for a background check. Each carry permit lasts five years and costs $20.
Allegheny County Sheriff William Mullen called the increase in carry permit applications "remarkable."
His office reported that applications in January 2012 totaled 1,749 -- about half of the 2,639 posted through Jan. 29 this year.
The total for 2012 was 19,304, compared with 12,472 in 2011.
Like his counterpart in Butler County, Sheriff Mullen said he senses fear that rights will be lost in the coming months. "I think the people feel we're going to take their firearms off them. It's the gun control talk."
Karen Kane: email@example.com or 724-772-9180.