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Hoping to avoid suicide epidemic, Florida company to end gun rentals

Published time: January 11, 2014 03:52
Edited time: January 13, 2014 12:08
AFP Photo / Getty Images / Scott Olson

AFP Photo / Getty Images / Scott Olson

A chain of gun-shops that has built gun ranges across central Florida has announced it will no longer rent out guns in order to stop a string of suicides that occurred when customers borrowed weapons and used them to take their own lives.

Shoot Straight, the largest independently owned chain of gun stores in the state, announced on Friday that the company would end its policy. Khaled Akkawi, the store’s founder, said the economic impact on his business would be “significant” but felt he had no choice to make the decision, which he did last month.

We’ve had enough,” Akkawi told the Orlando Sentinel. “They’ve been increasing real fast and the one common denominator – everyone is done with a rental gun.”

Suicides committed with rented firearms are not tracked by any agency, although Sentinel research found that at least 11 have occurred in the Orlando region since 2009. The problem is serious and common enough that Shoot Straight is not the only chain to amend its gun rental policy.

One customer visited Oak Ridge Gun Range on January 2nd and told employees he was waiting for his sons to arrive. When they failed to arrive after 20 minutes, he asked to go out to the firing range while he waited, where he turned the gun on himself.

That won’t happen again,” said Oak Ridge owner John Harvey. “We don’t rent to any white male Florida resident who comes in alone. In the past 30 years, we’ve never had a suicide that wasn't a white male Florida resident who came in alone. They don’t want to mess up their families’ homes, so they do it here.”

Store owners complained that confidentiality laws prevent them from having access to a customer's mental health history and Florida law prohibits criminal background checks being conducted on potential renters, which would help businesses screen for convicted felons and potential threats.

The first store to ban gun rentals was Gander Mountain Academy, doing so in part to prevent expensive costs that come with a suicide – including lost business, distress payments for employees and customers, and the charges that come with reopening again.

Renters general pay $50 for an hour of time on the range with a rented gun and ammunition, range owners told the Sentinel. Many stores rely on this income to make money, as an estimated 20 percent of customers are already gun owners who simply hope to “test drive” new guns they are considering purchasing.

I would say that about 90 percent of first-time gun buyers take advantage of the opportunity to rent a gun or two before making a purchase,” Orlando Gun Clob owner Jon Kirson said. “I’m a risk averse person and I run my business accordingly. We probably lose some business but…safety takes priority.”