MADISON, Alabama — Call it a lucky hunch or incredible instinct, but either way, there’s no denying Russell Durling and his two partners opened their gun shop at an opportune time.
Spurred by a surge in gun sales this winter, their store, Last Resort Guns, is on target for moving to a larger location by summer that will have the biggest indoor shooting range in Madison County. The new 11,000-square-foot store will still be on County Line Road, only further south in a new building currently under construction near Palmer Road.
Last Resort opened last April at 11156 County Line Road with the intention of building a client base and training its staff before starting a shooting range, Durling said.
“It was a big bite of the cherry to think you could open a range and open the shop at the same time. That’s a recipe for failure,” he said.
But it’s hard to say Last Resort took a cautious business approach after listening to Durling describe how he and his partners started stockpiling guns and ammo for an inventory months before they opened – all based on their belief that demand would boom once President Obama was re-elected.
“I bought every penny of gun stock I could, starting in 2012,” he said. “And after President Obama was re-elected I was convinced, no, I was convicted, that he would find a cause to push gun control.
“One of the reasons we started this business when we did – whether it was experience, a gut feeling, I don’t know – but our belief was that though President Obama had not put gun control on his first-term agenda, when re-elected and nothing to lose in a second term, the gun control agenda would resurface,” Durling said.
The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook School gave gun control proponents the opportunity to play on public fears and outrage, he said, and just as he and his partners envisioned, throngs of gun buyers have rushed to Last Resort.
As the Times reported earlier this month, Alabama saw the nation’s largest spike in applications for firearm background checks, a sudden rise of 145 percent, between the months of October and December.
Durling said holiday shopping created some of that, but Last Resort saw sales triple since the Sandy Hook shooting Dec. 14.
The number of customers has generally followed the number of television “talking heads” debating the gun control issue, he added.
But that didn’t happen Thursday, as Democratic lawmakers theatrically announced plans for an assault weapons ban, the first gun control legislation from Capitol Hill since the shooter in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 children and six adults. There were seven customers in the store at 5 p.m., but that’s common when commuters stop by returning home from work, employees said.
Surprisingly, this past few days have been the quietest since days after the shooting, said Andy Jones, store co-owner.
“We’ve basically had people in store every moment of the day we’re open,” he said of December and January traffic. “Only in the past two days has there been a moment when a customer wasn’t in the store.”
The new store — next to Wing Zilla Grill — will have nearly twice of much showroom space as the current location, as well as a classroom for gun safety classes and a waiting lounge next to the shooting range, which will feature 12 lanes (expandable to 17) for target practice for pistols and .223 rifles.
The shooting range was always going to be part of the Last Resort, Jones said, and the reasoning was when the United Kingdom banned hand guns in 1998, the last place handguns were allowed were at shooting ranges.
Durling and Jones came to America from England, so they saw the U.K. gun ban and reaction firsthand. While that experience helped them decide to open a gun shop, they said the main reason for starting the venture stemmed from a need for new jobs. Both are defense contractors, and they said starting a new business was in anticipation of canceled military projects.
There was some homework involved, too, Durling said, not just hunches based on experience.
Last Resort conducted a survey with the National Sport Shooting Foundation, which used a commercial database to show the Huntsville-Madison area could support a shooting range, he said.
“Other than Larry’s (Pistol Pawn), you have to go 30 miles to find another indoor range,” Durling said.
Last Resort will have a groundbreaking ceremony with the Madison Chamber of Commerce at 10 a.m. Tuesday, but earth-moving equipment was already at work this week. The owners said they hope the new store is open by June.
Until then, they will try to stay ahead of demand for guns and ammo, which Durling described as selling faster than they can replace. The storeroom shelves were nearly bare of bullets and the showroom was out of .22-caliber shells and 9mm range shells.
“If this (demand) keeps up, this thing’s going to come to a head and we’re going to run out of stock,” he said.