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A nationwide run on guns gained steam after the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., but firearm retailers in Southern Illinois say their inventory began tightening months before the tragic shooting for a number of reasons.

Dennis Dunn, owner of Dunn’s Sporting Goods in Marion, and Kevin Hicks, owner of Hick’s Trading Station in Pinckneyville, said their stores cannot keep the AR, AK and SKS style assault rifles in stock. Not only are the rifles flying off the racks, but the .223, 7.62X39, 9mm, .40 and even .22 caliber rounds and high capacity magazines are all in short supply.

The increased demand can be attributed to a number of factors, dealers say. Hicks said his business started seeing an increase in sales beginning in October, just before President Barack Obama was re-elected, and again when a Dec. 11 court order mandated Illinois adopt concealed carry legislation. After the Newtown tragedy, a general uncertainty of what gun control legislation might be coming down the pike spurred sales further. In December, Hicks’ sales were up nearly 50 percent.

Hicks said the uncertainty has stirred the public into panic buying. He’s seen runs on guns before — in the ’90s leading up to the assault weapons ban put in place during the Clinton administration, and again after Obama’s first election. But Hicks said this time is different. Those purchasing firearms are not who would be perceived as typical gun owners. Hicks said more women than ever are buying personal protection pistols from his store, while Dunn said he’s seen an increase in older people buying firearms for home defense.

“This is the third go-around, but it’s undoubtedly the biggest. The phone just rings off the hook,” Hicks said. “They know something is going to happen, either federally through Obama and (Vice President Joe) Biden, or (Gov. Pat) Quinn’s going to try to push something through the state legislature. When you got a president who starts talking about an executive order … it does send people into a frenzy.”

Illinois State Police reported background checks required before purchasing a firearm nearly doubled in the five-day period the Newtown shooting.

FBI records show a spike in the number of firearm background checks initiated through its National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The figures do not represent a one-to-one correlation between background checks and firearm sales, but they do show an increased interest in qualifying to acquire firearms.

In Illinois, background checks through the FBI system increased 43 percent from October to December. A total of 1,036,061 background checks were conducted statewide in 2012, compared to 828,962 in 2011 — a 24.9 percent increase.

Nationally, Kentucky requested the most background checks with more than 2.5 million, while Hawaii initiated the fewest with 17,428.

Dunn agreed political uncertainty is driving sales.

“Our president is the best gun salesman the industry’s ever had,” said Dunn.

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