Florida Gun Applications Jump 50%     By BIRUSK TUGAN   btugan@tampatrib.com

TAMPA - Although her family had guns, Noelle Scolaro never

touched one growing up.

But at 31, Scolaro, a single woman who often travels alone,

started thinking about buying one.

Then came the Sept. 11 attacks. They ``finalized my

decision,'' Scolaro said. ``This has kind of hit us very close

to home.''

Scolaro, who has her own business in Brandon, bought a

handgun on credit and has been practicing at a Tampa firing

range. She has plenty of company.

The number of people seeking background checks for gun

purchases in Florida jumped 50 percent in the weeks after

the attacks, according to figures from the Florida Department

of Law Enforcement. FDLE agents process the applications,

which are required by law and match the names of

prospective buyers against criminal records, warrants and

domestic violence injunctions.

Applications surged from an average of about 18,000 in

September of 1999 and 2000 to 27,460 last month, the FDLE said. The surge began the day

hijacked jets hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Some local gun shop owners say ammunition sales are up, too.

Charles Allen, who owns University Gun & Pawn Shop on Fletcher Avenue near the

University of South Florida, said his business has doubled since Sept. 11.

``A lot of people who put it off decided not to put it off anymore,'' Allen said.

The number of applications for concealed weapons permits is up as well, according to the

Florida Department of State, the agency that issues those licenses.

Between Sept. 11 and Oct. 15, 2,755 people sought concealed weapons permits. During the

same period last year, 2,391 people applied for permits - down from 2,679 during the same

period of 1999.

It is difficult to gauge how much of the increase was triggered by the terrorist attacks; the

state does not track that.

``We don't know how much of it is because of everything that's happened,'' said FDLE

spokeswoman Jennifer McCord. ``We don't ask people why they purchase guns.''

The Difference A Day Makes

But the numbers tell their own story.

The first 10 days of last month, firearms dealers sent the FDLE 5,110 requests for

background checks. That is less than one-fifth of the month's total.

The requests shot up Sept. 11. On that day alone, FDLE got 1,505 requests for background

checks - more than twice the number received the day before.

The FDLE does not break down the numbers, so it is not known whether certain areas of

the state are generating more gun sales than others, or whether more purchases are being

made by a particular age group or gender.

The surge goes beyond Florida. After declining slightly in recent years, the gun business is

up nationwide, said Victor Romano, the vice president of marketing at the National

Shooting Sports Foundation in Newtown, Conn. No doubt it's at least partly the result of

people's concern about terrorism, Romano said.

``But we don't have any ways of measuring that,'' he said.

A secondary reason for the increase could be the onset of hunting season, Romano and

McCord said. Nationwide the season generally starts in September, Romano said. But in

Florida it usually starts in October, said McCord - though ``it might have started early this


More Nerves, More Guns

There is no uncertainty, however, over the link between gun sales and terrorism in Bob

James' mind. James owns Bay Area Pistol Range on Broadway near the Orient Road Jail in


``We see a lot of people who are edgy after Sept. 11,'' James said. ``Even people who

have guns buy new ones.''

``Everybody says it's because of burglars that they buy guns,'' he said, ``but after Sept.

11, the nervousness is there.''

James has replaced traditional bull's-eyes with targets bearing a likeness of Osama bin

Laden, suspected of supporting the terrorist attacks.

``People come here even during lunch break and say `Give me a couple of bin Ladens,' ''

he said. It's a way of letting customers vent and show patriotism, he said.

Scolaro was practicing at James' range Tuesday.

``We had seen it happening in other places, but no one thought what happened would

happened there,'' she said of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. ``If

that happened there, it could happen anywhere.''

Scolaro will feel ``a little safer and secure'' with her new handgun, she said. It cost several

hundred dollars, and she's paying for it in monthly installments, she said.

Wearing ear protectors, she took aim at a bin Laden target and fired.

``I'm not a crazy woman; I am not against Muslims,'' she said. ``But it feels good to take

out a bad guy.''

Reporter Maurna Bales contributed to this report. Reporter Birusk Tugan can be reached at

(813) 259-7989.

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