BREWER, Maine — The managers of Van Raymond Outfitters and other Bangor-area gun shops say the recent rash of home invasions has increased gun sales.
Rick Lozier, who has worked at Van Raymond’s for more than a decade, said Wednesday that customers are looking for handguns to protect themselves and their homes.
Maine Military Supply owner Frank Spizuoco, Old Town Trading Post owner Dave Hanson, and Ralph McLeod, owner of Buyers Guns in Holden, all said sales of guns and other defensive weapons have recently increased.
“A lot of it is brand new people” who have never owned a weapon, Lozier said. “It’s not just the two recent events. People just ain’t feeling safe in their own homes, unfortunately.”
A home invasion in Hermon last week turned deadly after three people broke into an apartment and the resident shot two of them; one later died at the hospital.
Another home invasion that occurred in Eddington in January resulted in the alleged intruder being shot in the foot by the homeowner.
Reports on five home invasions have appeared in the Bangor Daily News already this month, occurring in Westfield, North Berwick, Stonington, Farmington and Hermon. More probably were reported but didn’t make the paper.
The most recent state data available indicate that robberies and burglaries are on the rise in Maine. The Crime in Maine 2010 report, compiled by Maine Department of Public Safety, shows that burglaries increased by 8.4 percent between 2006 and 2010, and robberies were up 8.6 percent.
Numbers in both categories steadily increased during the last three years of the report, with 6,516 reported burglaries in 2008 and 7,343 reported in 2010, and 332 robberies reported in 2008 and 416 reported in 2010.
McLeod said one recent customer lives just down the street from where the Eddington shooting occurred, and a second customer has been window-shopping for a while.
Last week’s home invasion in Hermon “kind of pushed him into making the decision” to purchase, he said.
Most people have come in looking for a handgun, McLeod said.
“Once I hear it’s for home protection, I tell them get a single-barrel shotgun,” the gun shop owner said. “Your range is the entire room.”
Spizuoco said when customers come looking for home protection and have never handled a gun, he suggests pepper spray or stun guns.
“If they never owned a firearm, pepper spray may be a better option,” he said. “We listen to them and try and steer them in … the right direction. Education is the best preventive measure and everything has its pros and cons.”
While Van Raymond’s carries a variety of handguns, rifles, Tasers and stun guns, most of the new customers are looking for semiautomatic pistols because those weapons have magazines that hold between 13 and 19 rounds, Lozier said.
Hanson said it’s true that he has seen an increase in sales, but it’s not just because of the recent home invasions. It’s also due to the increase in illegal drug use in the area.
Greater awareness of the synthetic drug bath salts is one reason customers have said they are purchasing weapons, Hanson said.
Brewer police Lt. Christopher Martin said this week that many drug addicts do not have jobs and therefore break into homes and cars to steal items of value that they can sell or trade for drugs.
“If bath salts cost $100 a gram and they do a gram a day, that’s a $700 habit a week,” the lieutenant said. “Who can afford that type of habit? They commit crimes as a means to get drugs. That means somebody in the community is going to be victimized.”
Clifton resident Brad Study said he also thinks that drugs are the reason there are so many home invasions.
“Many people who are doing the home invasions are on drugs,” he said Wednesday as he was leaving Van Raymond’s with friend Chris Francis of Etna.
He said he knows the men involved in last week’s Hermon home invasion and they took their lives in their hands when they decided to break into the residence.
“It’s just crazy,” Study said.
The gun shop owners also said that a lot of customers are enrolling in gun safety courses.
“Interest has been so high, next month we’re having two [classes],” Lozier said of Van Raymond’s. “If they’re not comfortable with the pistol, they are not going to shoot it.”
Purchasing a weapon for home protection is done for just one reason, he said.
“It just boils down to people not feeling safe,” Lozier said.