Gun-sales hiatus: No revolt

The timing, at season's start, may affect new hunters.

Posted: August 25, 2007

LEBANON, Pa. - Here at Shyda's Gun Shop, where handguns gleam under glass cases, rifles line the wall like trophies, and an employee proudly wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the words "The Right to Bear Arms," most everyone agrees on one thing: No serious, self-respecting hunter waits until the last minute to buy a gun.

"You want to get to know your gun before you take it out," Todd Dohner, 45, a carpenter and avid hunter from Cornwall, said yesterday as he shopped for ammunition at the Lebanon County store in central Pennsylvania with his 16-year-old son, Adam.

"You should know how it kicks. You should know how it feels. You should test it out at the range. You need to trust your gun," he said.

For hunters like Dohner, the commotion over next month's four-day shutdown of the state's criminal-background-check system - a move that will prevent people from buying guns just as hunting season begins - is overblown.

The shutdown, which the Rendell administration has scheduled for Sept. 2-6, has outraged several rural lawmakers, who view it as a slap at the Second Amendment and the work of Philadelphia liberals engaging in back-door gun control.

Yesterday, one lawmaker, Rep. Timothy Solobay (D., Washington), even joined a group of gun dealers to file suit in Commonwealth Court to block the shutdown. They are contending that the system can be upgraded without taking it off-line completely, or that it can be done by performing the work after normal business hours.

For his part, Gov. Rendell conceded this week that his administration should have checked with sportsmen's groups before selecting the date. He also said he was assembling a committee to review whether there is a better time to shut down the system.

The committee will meet with state police officials Monday, and Rendell said he would know by Tuesday whether the time frame can be changed.

The hunters at Shyda's yesterday said they thought the timing of the shutdown was, at the very least, bad politics. Few saw it as a conspiracy marked with Philadelphia's political fingerprints - and even those who did said they could work around it.

"Do I think that everyone has an agenda when it comes to guns? Probably, yes," said Kevin Hartman, 33, of Lebanon County. "But will this be a problem for me personally? No. I bought my guns three or four months ago, for me and my boy."

Hartman and others roaming the aisles at the gun store said most hunters they know buy their guns weeks, if not months, in advance of hunting season. Some use the same gun they've used for years.

The people who could be affected: first-time hunters, particularly young hunters.

Skip Ruhl, a hunting safety instructor who lives in Lancaster County, said he was teaching a group of 12-year-olds who will be graduating from the class right around the time of the shutdown. (In Pennsylvania, you must be 12 before you can hunt, and must have completed hunting safety and instruction training.)

"Ed [Rendell] is going to be stepping on their toes," Ruhl said. "It may only be four days, but when you've been waiting 12 years, four days is a very long time."

Then there are the gun dealers.

James Mahoski, the manager at Shyda's, said people come to his store from as far as Maryland and Virginia - and those folks, he said, won't necessarily know about the system shutdown.

"And they won't be mad at the politicians, they're going to be mad at me," he said.

Sales will be affected, too. He said that if he normally sells eight guns in one day, "that's eight guns every day for four days that I won't be selling. It adds up."

But is it a conspiracy, one brewed by bleeding-heart Philadelphians?

"I don't get involved with the politics," Mahoski said, "because in my opinion, they're all liars."

To which a customer on his way out of the store replied: "Touché. The key word is all."

Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or


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