By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
New orange paint and black iron bars on the doors and windows make NP Firearms stand out on Kalakaua Street. And it’s not just a Halloween decor.
Workers were fine-tuning the security system last week at NP Firearms while inside gun safes and display cases were being readied for the store’s expected opening this week.
Meanwhile, the father-son team of Sean and Josh Stueber opened Stueb’s Guns and Ammo two months ago in an upstairs unit at 7 Lukia St. in Hilo. And in August, the national Sports Authority chain opened a new store in Hilo which has its own firearms department.
What’s with all the new gun stores in Hilo? It’s part of a surging tide of gun ownership in Hawaii and throughout the nation.
The number of reported FBI background checks for gun ownership nationwide has increased in each of the last 26 months. In Hawaii last year a record 14,460 permits were issued, up 15.5 percent from 2010, and a total of 36,804 firearms were registered to Hawaii owners in 2011, compared to 31,390 in 2010, a 15 percent increase, the state Department of the Attorney General reported.
Husband-wife team Ilan and Michelle Kariv, an Israeli couple, aim to bring a new dimension to gun sales at NP Firearms. They moved to Hawaii Island four years ago after successfully establishing a business on Oahu building and operating electronic security systems for state facilities. Now they see an opportunity to provide more for the gun-buying public, including a wider variety of firearms for buyers to choose from.
Sean Stueber recognized a similar opportunity. “We saw a need for a shop with decent prices on guns that you could see and handle in the shop,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff in stock that people can look at.”
Hunters comprise the island’s largest gun market, Ilan Kariv said. But recreational users, hobbyists, collectors, police and property owners seeking protection all have their own needs that the Karivs hope to meet in their 800 square-foot store.
“We’ll have a large variety of guns in all price ranges,” said Michelle Kariv, “including handguns and a wide variety and supply of ammunition.” Ammo, she said, is more difficult to get than the guns themselves.
“We really want to have a presence downtown where people can actually see, touch and get a hands-on feel for what they want to buy. From a business standpoint, it’s the right thing to do. We’ll have a large, diverse inventory, scopes, bags, red dots (laser aiming devices), vests and safety equipment,” Ilan said.
Hawaii’s gun laws are recognized as among the toughest in the nation. Gun buyers must register their firearms and take a safety class, and handgun purchasers require a background check and police permit before the firearm leaves the store. Guns in Hawaii are also restricted to ammunition clips that hold no more than 10 bullets, and it is illegal to carry a concealed weapon or to publicly carry a weapon that is not properly stored.
Returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also are contributing to the rising demand, and women are taking up shooting as a form of recreation, said Stueber, who’s now planning to start his own safety classes to help fill the growing need for the class now offered primarily by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Hawaii County Police Maj. Sam Thomas said law enforcement isn’t necessarily involved with the opening of new firearms stores. “As long as they are following the laws, we don’t have anything to do with them.”
The politics of gun ownership may also be driving gun sales, Ilan Kariv and Sean Stueber both acknowledged, as people afraid that government will further restrict ownership are buying firearms and ammo in advance of any new legislation.
Widely reported mass shootings in public places also fuel a rising demand for firearms. The Associated Press this year has reported surges in gun permits and firearms registrations of up to 25 percent in Washington, Connecticut, Florida and Colorado, where the “Dark Knight” massacre took 12 lives and left dozens injured after a gunman opened fire in a dark, crowded movie theater.
Handguns are the biggest sellers, and nationwide demand is so strong that some manufacturers are selling them as fast as they make them, Michelle said. “They are easier to carry around and easier to aim.”
Maj. Thomas speculated that the statewide surge in firearms could be simply the result of the growing presence of large chain stores in Hawaii, increasing the availability and lowering the prices on a wider variety of firearms.
“Gun sales also surge in election years,” Stueber said. “People are unsure of what’s going to happen.”
North Pacific Firearms is located at 104 Kalakaua St. Call 933-GUNS (4867) or visit online at www.npfirearms.com. Stueb’s Guns & Ammo, 7 Lukia St., unit 202, can be reached at 854-1981, or online at www.hiloguns.com.
Email Hunter Bishop at email@example.com.