Bonnie Stecher (center), a founder and instructor in Snohomish County’s chapter of The Well Armed Woman group, goes over a target with Marlene Wing (right), of Marysville, and Brianna Badger (left), of Arlington, at the Norpoint Shooting Center in Arlington on Saturday, Feb. 4. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

As gun sales grow, more are learning how to shoot

EVERETT — Bonnie Stecher shot a .22-caliber rifle as a girl.

Her dad used to take her to visit an old dump near Lake Roesiger. They would aim for the rats.

Shooting was her family’s version of bowling night.

Now, at 61, she is a certified pistol instructor with the National Rifle Association.

Stecher established Washington’s first chapter of The Well Armed Woman four years ago. About 45 women from across Snohomish County get together once a month.

She has noticed a growing interest in shooting recently among women. People come to her asking about first steps.

Stecher walks them through the process of picking out a gun. For those with arthritis, she suggests guns that would work best with their hands.

Stecher said many women in the club live alone, making them feel uneasy at times. They say they want to learn how to protect themselves. Others have previously experienced violence in their homes, she said.

Shooting also is fun, said Stecher, who lives in Snohomish. Club members become friends, as well as each others’ coaches.

The legislative, social and safety issues surrounding the use of firearms aren’t simple. Meanwhile, shooting is a longstanding pastime.

Firearm purchases appear to ebb and swell with national elections, proposed gun legislation and incidents of mass violence.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office tracked a 25 percent increase in concealed pistol licenses between 2015 and 2016 within unincorporated Snohomish County and the cities that deputies patrol under contract. Handgun purchases, meanwhile, increased by 19 percent.

The number of handgun purchases last year exceeded 1,000 per month, which is higher than previous years.

Sales spike after domestic and international mass shootings, sheriff’s spokeswoman Shari Ireton said.

“If there’s a shooting that happens on a Friday night, that next Monday morning we’ll have a line out the door of people requesting (concealed pistol licenses),” Ireton said.

In November 2015, a series of terrorist attacks targeted Paris, killing 130 people. A gunman killed three others that same month at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado.

Concealed pistol licenses issued here that month nearly doubled, while gun purchases increased from 1,381 to 2,491 — more than twice the monthly average for 2015, according to the sheriff’s office.

Mass violence is not the only impetus for gun sales.

Brian Hallaq, owner of the Norpoint Shooting Center in Arlington, said presidential elections often evoke “panic buying.”

“Starting in 2013, after the re-election of Barack Obama, there were dramatic spikes in gun and ammo sales to the point where the entire industry was a bit overwhelmed,” Hallaq said. “There were long periods of time where we couldn’t get certain types of products.”

The recent election was no different.

“The majority of the industry believed Clinton was going to win,” Hallaq said.

Hillary Clinton advocated for tighter restrictions on guns, such as keeping military-style firearms out of the hands of everyday people.

Those more powerful weapons were first off the shelves, Hallaq said.

Gun dealers stocked up on military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Norpoint, an indoor shooting center, typically sees a lull in business during the summer when people would rather shoot outside, Hallaq said.

However, he had to bulk up the number of employees working last summer to keep pace with consumer demands leading up to the election.

Now, under the President Donald Trump administration, the higher-than-usual sales have subsided. Gun dealers are having to sell their excess stock at lower costs, Hallaq said.

Norpoint’s gun safety classes followed a different trend — one of steady growth.

Hallaq has been looking for more instructors to add new courses. Classes consistently sell out.

Classes for beginners fill up a month in advance. As for the more advanced courses, people typically can find a spot a week or two ahead of time.

Norpoint also offers classes in laws governing firearms and self-defense. A first aid class focuses on caring for someone with a gunshot wound or other traumatic injuries.

In Olympia, legislators have been working on passing bills to address gun safety, as well.

A bill was introduced in the state House of Representatives last month that would make a gunowner criminally liable if his or her unsecured firearm is used to kill or hurt another person.

Gun dealers would be required to provide storage equipment, as well as to post notices of the new law in their stores.

Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, on Wednesday said he had concerns about the bill. The language closely resembles the current law for reckless endangerment, he said.

That law makes it a potential misdemeanor if someone’s reckless actions create the risk of death or injury for others.

“Most gun owners are very responsible, and we need to encourage people to employ responsible gun storage, not make it the law,” said Hayes, who also works as a Snohomish County sheriff’s sergeant.

A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday afternoon to discuss whether the bill should progress out of the house judiciary committee.

Sen. Guy Palumbo, a gun owner, introduced an identical bill in the Senate last month.

About three-quarters of guns used in youth suicide attempts and shootings were stored in the home of a victim, relative or friend, according to the bill.

Palumbo, a Democrat from Maltby, cited two local examples.

In 2014, Jaylen Fryberg used his father’s illegally purchased handgun to shoot five of his friends in the cafeteria of Marysville Pilchuck High School before taking his own life. Four of the five died.

His father, Raymond Fryberg, is now serving a two-year prison sentence. He was not permitted to have a gun due to a 2002 domestic-violence court order.

Raymond Fryberg was not criminally responsible for his son’s actions under current laws.

More recently, Arcan Cetin allegedly used his stepfather’s gun to kill five strangers at the Cascade Mall in Burlington in September.

The bill remains in committee. The legislation aims to curb access for those who are prohibited from having guns, while protecting people’s rights to own firearms for personal protection or sport.

Stecher is a mom, a grandma and a Haggens grocery store employee for 37 years.

People have told her, “you don’t look like the kind of person who would shoot,” she said.

She hopes to teach classes now that she is an accredited pistol instructor.

Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; ctompkins@heraldnet.com.

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