Increasing number of customers arming themselves for protection.

Gun sales have skyrocketed across the country and Pratt appears to be following the national trend.

"Sales have been very good," said Ryan Laney, owner of Main Street Armory in Pratt, averaging five to eight guns every business day. He attributes part of his store's popularity to its newness — he opened on Oct. 26.

Sales picked up the day after President Barack Obama was re-elected. Laney said he sold 20 guns and $20,000 in accessories on Nov. 7, out of fear that Obama would push for more restrictive legislation regarding gun ownership.

Some purchasers were looking to make some money by reselling the guns later on, and others wanted to be "grandfathered in, to have that heritage and pass it down to their children."

In the two days following the shooting of school children in Sandy Hook, Conn., Laney sold 20 semi-automatic rifles.

One of his biggest challenges since opening the store has been restocking his inventory.

"I work with five to eight distributors and each one has told me he can go back to the warehouse and hit golf balls all day long and not hit a box," he said.

Another is the growing cost of guns and ammunition. The price of magazines (ammunition) has gone from $10 or $20 to over $100, and overall, the sportsman's hobby has more than tripled in price.

Most of his customers are hunters, or competition shooters, he said, but a growing number of people are buying guns for personal protection or home defense. He estimates one in four of his customers is female.

"Our mission is to serve and protect, but we can't guarantee individual protection," Pratt Police Chief Gary Myers said. "If a person can meet the qualifications and pass the background check to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, I have no issue with that whatsoever."

"Personally, I think it (gun ownership) is one thing that keeps rural America and the rest of the country safe," Sheriff Vernon Chinn said. "Criminals are cowards; like a coyote in the wild, they prey on the weak.

"If an intruder breaks into your home, you have the right to defend yourself," he said. "After you use that force, a court of law will determine if the force was justified. You will be held to the same standards as law enforcement. It is an awesome responsibility."

But while Chinn said an armed citizenry could be effective against mass shootings, he admitted he wouldn't want to be in a movie theater under attack by a shooter, if members of the audience started shooting in defense.

One of the hardest things to train officers to do is to shoot in low light settings — and that applies to most buildings, he said. Another hard thing is to hit a moving target.

To receive a license to carry a concealed weapon in Kansas, a person must complete an 8-hour course with a certified trainer. While a degree of accuracy in hitting a target is required, Chinn said the course doesn't really involve much marksmanship, due to the closeness of the target.

Sheriff's officers train at least six to eight times a year; Chinn questioned how much training a private gun owner would do.

Chinn, Myers and Laney all agree — guns don't kill people; the Constitution guarantees an individual's right to bear arms; there is already legislation in place to keep fully automatic weapons off the street; and it's illegal to kill a human being.

"In the wake of all that's gone on (referring to the school shooting in Connecticut), I hope emotions die down before we make changes in gun laws," Chinn said.

"Maybe we should try something novel like if you commit a crime with a firearm you spend a minimum of 10 years behind bars," he suggested. "If you injure or kill someone, you're not coming out. Maybe we ought to deal with the individual and not the tool he's using."

A former law enforcement officer, Laney believes his comrades are doing a good job "getting the nuts off the street," but because of a shortage of prison or mental health facilities, courts "keep turning them loose."

Myers was more moderate in his phrasing: "Mental health facilities are not being provided because of cutbacks. There are a lot of people out here who are very unstable. We already have restrictions to keep unauthorized people from getting firearms."

Concealed carry permits, Pratt County:

2006 5

2007 25

2008 46

2009 69

2010 89

2011 120

2012 201

NICS background checks, nationwide:

2006 10,036,933

2007 11,177,335

2008 12,709,023

2009 14,033,824

2010 14,409,616

2011 16,454,951

2012 19,592,303