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Record sales reported at South Florida gun retailers

As one national retailer removed semiautomatic rifles from its shelves, the national gun-control debate has sent South Florida gun enthusiasts dashing to snag existing supplies.

On North Miami Avenue’s 2400 block in Wynwood, a man holding a graphic yellow sign emblazoned with black images of high-powered weapons read simply, Gun Sale!!! Inside, Johnson Firearms owner Dave F. Johnson said he was experiencing record demand for semiautomatic firearms.

“Everyone’s buying them up because of the fear of another ban,” he said. “We can’t even order new ones because they’re on backorder.”

At Lou’s Police Supply in Hialeah, a woman answering the phone said the owner was too busy even to take a call.

“We’re crazy, crazy busy. It’s been that way since Friday,” said the woman, who declined to give her name. The department selling rifles had stopped answering the phones, she said.

Meanwhile, national retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods, a chain with more than 500 stores, said in a statement Tuesday that “during this time of national mourning” it was stopping gun sales at its store closest to Newtown, Conn., where a 20-year-old gunman killed 26 people Friday at an elementary school. The company said it was also temporarily ceasing sales of modern sporting rifles nationwide.

Private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management is distancing itself from Friday’s shooting by selling the maker of the rifle said to be used in the attack. Cerberus said in a statement Tuesday that it will abandon its investment in Freedom Group, which produces the Bushmaster line of firearms. The shooter is believed to have used a .223-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 rifle — similar to the military’s M-16 weapon — in his assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School.

And removed its information page on the Bushmaster .223. The nation’s largest retailer said it removed the information page on Bushmaster “in light of the tragic events.” However, it said it had made no changes to its sales policies on guns and ammunition.

A spokesman for Wal-Mart, David Tovar, said the company remained “dedicated to the safe and responsible sale of firearms in areas of the country where they are sold,” and that the company “had not made any changes to the assortment of guns we sell in select stores.”

Wal-Mart had recently been increasing its emphasis on gun sales, after a five-year period where it had backed away from them.

Tovar said the company was a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. As part of that, the company takes video recordings of gun sales, conducts background checks on employees selling guns and takes other steps to help keep guns away from criminals. Still, Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other Arizona residents last year, bought ammunition for a Glock handgun at a Walmart the morning of the shooting.

In Wynwood, Johnson, too, pointed to the paperwork and background checks required for ownership.

“My customers come from all over. Major state politicians. Two city commissioners. Lawyers and doctors. If you sit here for a full day, you’ll see docs in scrubs come in,” said Johnson, wearing a black T-shirt with the words, “Guns for the good guys.” “They know that no matter what law is passed, the bad guys will get guns. My customers buy them for protection.”

Keith Haag of Pompano Beach said that was the reason he had joined two dozen others in line at the gun department at Bass Pro Shops in Dania Beach, where he waited to add a handgun to his current collection. “I just want another gun. It’s a violent society and I want the right to be able to have a gun.”

But Bass Pro shopper Jennifer Gross, who was looking for other types of supplies in the store, thought the decision by other retailers to remove semiautomatic weapons was “the right thing to do based on the recent events.”

“But they are probably doing it just to show support,” she said. “Probably when Christmas is over they will put them back on the shelves.’’

Miami Herald writers Patricia Borns and Maria Camila Bernal contributed to this report, which was supplemented by material from The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.