Guns fly off racks during state's tax-free weekend

Holiday shopping season, 'Obama factor' fuel sales

COLUMBIA -- Business was, you might say, booming this past weekend, as the state's first sales tax-free weekend attracted throngs to gun shops.

"It was a tremendous incentive," said Ronnie Thrailkill, manager of Shooter's Choice, a West Columbia gun shop.

Guns can be expensive, and buyers could save a nice chunk of change by not having to pay the state's 6 percent sales tax.

That means anyone who bought a semi-automatic Desert Eagle .44 magnum pistol for $1,500 saved $90 in state tax and an additional $15 in local taxes, said Jerry Stoudemire, co-owner of Little Mountain Gun and Supply store in Little Mountain.

"Not a bad savings that will buy a lot of ammo," said Stoudemire, who also is president of the Gun Owners of South Carolina. The group is the National Rifle Association's affiliate and has about 800 members.

Stoudemire and several other gun shop operators contacted Tuesday said gun sales doubled or tripled during the weekend.

People attracted by the possibility of no tax even came from out of state to buy guns, said Trent Randles, a salesman at Grady's Sporting Goods in Anderson. So many customers showed up at Grady's on Friday that clerks handed out numbers so everyone would know their place in line, he said.

Rifles, shotguns, pistols, hunting guns and collector's guns all were being snapped up, operators said.

"We probably had more than 150 people in our shop at any given time all through the day," said Thrailkill. "I had 15 employees here."

The only downside was that Thrailkill likes to spend time with customers discussing their needs and preferences, but time was limited last weekend, he said.

At Palmetto Firearms on Broad River Road in Columbia, manager Mark Cowart said the sales tax holiday definitely increased business.

"A fair number of people came by to make sure that was the deal -- no sales tax," Cowart said.

Two other factors fueled sales: Friday was the first day of the holiday shopping season, and many are apprehensive that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama would crack down on gun ownership.

"The Obama factor" certainly brought people in, said Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, lead sponsor on the gun tax-free weekend bill.

The bill, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, applied only to firearms, not ammunition or holsters.

Pitts said he had no idea, when working to get his bill passed earlier this year, that by Thanksgiving, the economy would tank and not paying taxes on a gun purchase would be so attractive.

His intention, he said, was to celebrate the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms.

No one should worry the wrong sort of people were buying guns this weekend, he said.

"This doesn't put guns into the hands of criminals. People buying in stores have to pass background checks. Criminals have a tax-free holiday for guns 365 days a year because they get their guns illegally," said Pitts, a retired law officer from the Greenville Police Department.