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Published December 24, 2012, 08:34 AM

Military-style rifles selling fast in Northland

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Gun dealers in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are reporting a spike in sales of semi-automatic rifles amid renewed talk in Washington of a federal ban on assault weapons.

DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Gun dealers in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are reporting a spike in sales of semi-automatic rifles amid renewed talk in Washington of a federal ban on assault weapons.

"I despise the term 'panic buying,' but I don't have any other word for it. We're out of them," Pat Kukull, owner of Superior Shooters Supply in Superior, Wis., said of semi-automatic rifles. She said other kinds of guns are also selling well.

"I've been in this business 35 years and I've never seen anything like this," Kukull told the Duluth News Tribune (http://bit.ly/12KEwaG ). Glen's Army Navy Store in Grand Rapids reported selling out of assault rifles late last week.

The Dec. 14 deadly school shooting in Connecticut has revived talk among some political leaders of a new push for an assault weapons ban. Congress banned the rifles in 1994 but that lapsed in 2004 due to a sunset provision and has not been renewed since. The White House says President Barack Obama supports reinstating the ban.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, I sell more of them," said Scott Van Valkenburg, owner of Fisherman's Corner, near Duluth. He said sales of the rifles usually made up about 5 percent of his business, but last week comprised nearly half his total gun sales. "The more they talk about banning them, the more they sell and the harder they get to find."

Authorities say 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six adults in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Similar weapons have been used in other high-profile shootings, including the July attack at a Colorado movie theater that left 12 people dead.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says more than 2 million assault rifles were sold in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010.

Gun buyers from military buffs to prairie dog hunters have many reasons for wanting the rifles, Kukull said.

"They are about the best varmint gun out there," she said. "Most people don't realize that they are incredibly accurate. And some guys just like to punch holes in paper. I bought one myself just because I felt like I needed one to round out my gun collection."

The guns usually cost between $500 and $2,000, more if customers choose add-ons such as telescopic sites and specialty barrels. Kukull said the school shooting would complicate efforts to improve the weapons' reputation.

"I get why people don't like this industry when these horrible things happen. I'm a grandma," Kukull said. "But to blame the style of gun isn't logical."

Joan Peterson of Duluth is a member of the board of directors of the national Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She said the Connecticut shooting empowers those Americans who don't own guns to win support for stronger gun controls, including an assault weapons ban and a ban on large-capacity magazines for ammunition.

"I've somehow managed to make it this long in life without owning a gun. Most of us don't own a gun and will never need a gun," Peterson said.

Peterson said her husband is a deer hunter, but "you don't need assault rifles to hunt deer," she said. "If you can't get a deer with three or four shots, pack it up and get out of the woods. I don't care how fun they say these assault rifles are to shoot. Children are dying."

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