Firearm sales in Connecticut soared in 2012.
The increase in gun purchases reflected a dramatic decade-long rise as residents armed themselves in an era of growing concerns about horrific crimes -- such as the Newtown school massacre -- and more restrictive gun laws.
Sparked by mass slayings such as the Aurora, Colo., movie theater killing spree and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, sales of handguns and long guns in the state neared 80,000 for 2012, more than triple the number sold in 2000, an analysis by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers shows.
"If you see a spike, it is one of two reasons -- both (involve) fear," said Fairfield police Chief Gary MacNamara. "One, people are fearful because of a recent crime; two is people fearful of restrictions in the future."
Gun sales increased dramatically from 2000 to 2012 in the Greater New Milford area.
In New Milford, sales spiked from 324 to 973; in Bridgewater, from 22 to 76; in Kent, from 31 to 95; in Roxbury, from 32 to 135; in Sherman, from 43 to 141; and, in Washington, from 37 to 116.
Overall, for this area, gun sales rose from 489 in 2000 to 1,536 in 2012.
In Connecticut's major towns and cities, handgun permits are rapidly increasing.
From 2000 to 2012, the annual number of handguns sold in Danbury and Stamford quadrupled. Greenwich reported a three-fold jump in handgun sales, according to the Hearst review of the data.
In Bridgeport, the state's largest city, overall firearm sales tripled to more than 1,200 this year, despite summertime marches against gun violence and a two-week-old gun-buyback program. In Hartford, gun sales nearly doubled, jumping to 521 in 2012, from 215 in 2000.
The figures reviewed by Hearst reflect approved handgun, rifle and automatic weapon sales compiled by the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection using numbers reported to the state police's special licensing and firearms unit.
"People are seeing a need to arm themselves," Mr. Crook said. "Every day they are reading in the newspapers that somebody got shot, and the shooter is often a convicted felon."
He said gun owners are also concerned federal and state governments are considering stronger anti-gun legislation. As a result, he said members of his organization and the National Rifle Association believe the time is now or never to buy firearms.
That response and the swelling sales worry gun control advocates. Nationally, background checks performed by the FBI related to gun sales indicate purchases have jumped since 2000.
"I'm scared. I'm horrified. I'm fearful for this country," said Nancy Alderman, president of the nonprofit Environment and Human Health Inc., a state public policy group calling on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature to approve more stringent gun legislation in coming months.
Ms. Alderman said violent crimes including the Cheshire home invasion and murders, the bloody Bridgeport drug wars, and the horrific Dec. 14 Newtown school shootings that killed 20 elementary students and six adults, have persuaded some people that "they need to be armed."
Gun purchases spiked nationally earlier this year after James Holmes fired into a crowded Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a showing of the ultra-violent "Dark Knight Rises" Batman sequel, killing 12 and injuring 58. In Colorado alone, gun sales exceeded all of 2011 by early November, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.
The recent shootings followed others tragedies ranging from the Tucson, Ariz., shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011 to the 2009 Fort Hood attack that left 13 dead and 29 wounded.
"These have not been happy years," said Claire Gold, a board member of Connecticut Collaborative for Education Against Gun Violence. "People feel insecure because of the violence. We're living in an anxious world. Every day you can pick up any paper and read someone has been shot."
That sense of lost security sends people to the gun shop. In the days after the Newtown shooting, gun sales in the state doubled, police data shows.
The state's buying spree dates back much further.
Danbury has sold the most guns in western Connecticut this year: 1,332, up from 287 in 2000.
"We have a lot of things in place in Connecticut to protect against gun violence," he said. "Some good, some bad."
Yet Connecticut remains a place synonymous with shooting. There are roughly 170,000 pistol permit holders in the state, said Mr. Crook.
Hunters and collectors alike drive up gun sales, he said, adding some guns appreciate in value faster than stocks.
Mr. Fishbein said the "hysteria" that follows major crimes usually riles up both gun opponents and staunch supporters, leading to more stringent proposals that send some people scrambling to preserve gun rights.
"There is pretty much, and has been, a fervor for people to get permits for two or three years now," he said. "To get them while they can."
On Dec. 16, President Barack Obama pledged to a packed Newtown High School auditorium that action would be taken to prevent mass shootings. While his comments were welcomed by many, it apparently spurred some people to buy more guns before it was too late, Mr. Fishbein said.
"We've become a gun-owning people, and I find it frightening," said Ms. Alderman. "Am I naive to think, when passed, legislation will solve all problems? Of course not. But we need to look at everything and anything that can help. The situation is so bad that we shouldn't be held responsible for lack of trying."
Ron Pinciaro, who heads Connecticut Against Gun Violence, is planning a Feb. 14 march on Hartford for stronger gun legislation. He said his coalition wants to make sure Connecticut "has the strongest gun laws in the country."