Some gun retailers make changes after school shootings
School shootings • Dick's, others alter rifle sales, investors pull back, Utah dealer stays course.
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National retailers that sell guns and do business in Utah are making some changes after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., as are some big investors.

Dick's Sporting Goods, a chain with more than 500 stores, said in a statement that "during this time of national mourning" it was stopping gun sales, and withdrawing them from display, at its store closest to Newtown. The company said it was also temporarily ceasing sales of modern sporting rifles at its 500 stores in 44 states nationwide, including Utah.

And Walmart.com removed its information page on the Bushmaster .223, a semiautomatic rifle said to be used by the gunman, Adam Lanza, in the Newtown killings.

Locally, messages left with gun retailers seeking comment yielded only one return call Tuesday. Dave Larsen, store manager at Doug's Shoot'n Sports in Taylorsville, said he would not be suspending sales — and any gun stores that do "are pandering to the masses."

"This isn't a gun problem, it's a shooter problem," said Larsen. "The Second Amendment is not about self-defense or target shooting, it's about liberty. The final check on government is individuals with their own firearms. It's a check against tyrants."

On another front, private equity company Cerberus Capital Management reported that it's selling off its entire investment in Bushmaster and returning any profit made to investors. Cerberus bought Bushmaster in 2006, then merged it with additional gun companies that include Remington to create Freedom Group, which reported net sales of $677 million for the first nine months of 2012, up $112 million from 2011.

In a statement, Cerberus said, "It is not our role to take positions, or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate. That is the job of our federal and state legislators. There are, however, actions that we as a firm can take."

The announcement came one day after the California State Teachers Retirement System, a large pension fund, told The Wall Street Journal that it was reviewing its $500 million investment commitment to Cerberus because of the firm's stake in Freedom Group.

Elsewhere, it appeared that investors as a whole also were ridding themselves of shares in firearms makers, although all the talk about additional gun control appeared to be driving increased gun sales in some parts of the country. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said it received a record 4,154 requests for background checks on Saturday, the day after the shooting.

That was slightly more than on its normal biggest day, Black Friday.

Bob Irwin, CEO of The Gun Store in Las Vegas, said customer traffic has jumped since the school shooting, with many customers concerned that more gun laws will be enacted.

Amid the debate, the stocks of publicly-traded gun makers dropped for a third-straight day. Shares of Sturm, Ruger & Co. were down 7.7 percent to close at $40.60. They're off almost 11 percent since Thursday, the day before the shooting. Shares of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. fell 10 percent to $7.79 — down almost 15 percent from their Thursday close.

The nation's largest retailer, Walmart, said it removed the information page on Bushmaster "in light of the tragic events." However, it said it had made no changes to its sales policies on guns and ammunition.

A spokesman for Walmart, David Tovar, said that the company remained "dedicated to the safe and responsible sale of firearms in areas of the country where they are sold," and that the company "had not made any changes to the assortment of guns we sell in select stores."

Walmart had recently been increasing its emphasis on gun sales, after a five-year period where it had backed away from them. In 2006, the company stopped selling guns in most of its American stores, saying there was little customer demand for the items.

But in 2011, it reversed that decision, saying it wanted to appeal to hunting enthusiasts, and began selling guns at more than half of its stores.

Tovar said that the company was a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. As part of that, the company takes video recordings of gun sales, conducts background checks on employees selling guns and takes other steps to help keep guns away from criminals.

Still, Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other Arizona residents last year, bought ammunition for a Glock gun at a Walmart the morning of the shooting.

A spokesman for Cabela's, another large chain that sells guns, did not immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday. An information page at Cabela's featured the Bushmaster .223 on Tuesday.

Contacted by The Tribune, Steve M. Scheel, president of his namesake sporting goods and apparel store that opened a location in Sandy in September, had no comment.

Bass Pro Shops' site showed information about other guns on Tuesday but no Bushmaster-brand guns; last month, though, it offered a Black Friday special on a Bushmaster M4 Patrolman for $949.99. A spokesman said in an e-mail that the company had made no changes to its website.

A Dick's Sporting Goods spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday. —

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