FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Brian Eubanks has owned guns most of his life.
The north Alabama man is a hunter and a recreational shooter. He taught his sons about gun safety; he bought his wife a pistol as a recent Valentine's Day present.
On one occasion, he's used a gun to urge an armed man off his property.
In recent years, he's bought more guns — in part because he likes them; in part because he thinks there is a movement to limit guns in the U.S., and in part because he thinks he will need them.
"I do have a lot of concerns about Second Amendment rights," Eubanks said. "I've woken up to the fact that police aren't always going to be there when you need them.
"You need to be able to take care of your own."
Judging by the numbers, many Alabamians think like Eubanks.
Alabama might not be a highly populated state, but it is apparently a well-armed one. And it's becoming more so at a higher rate than many other states.
The number of Alabamians undergoing the background checks needed for over-the-counter gun purchases has increased by about 37 percent from 2007 to 2011. Nationally, background checks rose by 47 percent during the period.
In 1999, the first full year they were required, 246,756 background checks were done in Alabama. The numbers hovered between 220,000 and 245,355 per year until 2008 when it jumped to nearly 300,000.
In 2011, the number of background checks increased to 336,102.
Some gun advocates say firearm purchases go beyond fears and perception that the federal government, led by President Barack Obama, will limit sales.
"This has been an ongoing issue for gun owners for many years," said James Moses, president of the Alabama State Rifle and Pistol Association. "This has been going on since 1934."
The National Firearm Act of 1934 is considered the first federal gun control action. And it was the start of what Moses calls "roadblocks" to legal ownership, roadblocks that now include background checks.
"The Democrats get blamed for being anti-gun, but that's not entirely true," said Moses, whose organization promotes competitive shooting and hunting. "It's more of an urban/rural situation."
Seventeen other states conducted more background checks than Alabama in 2011. With two exceptions, Alabama is the least populated of all those, though.
In those two cases, there are circumstances that could skew the numbers. Kentucky requires regular checks on residents who have concealed weapons reports, according to news reports. The numbers also could be skewed in Utah. A 2010 New York Times article said people flock to Utah to obtain gun permits, which also require the background check, because it allows them to carry in 32 other states.
Numbers from the National Instant Background Check System don't translate exactly into gun sales, but they're a good indicator. The person being researched in the background checks may not be able to purchase the gun, or may choose not to do so. On the flip side, he or she may buy multiple guns at once.
If the background check does not find a problem, owners then have to go to their local sheriff's offices to get a permit if they want to carry the guns in their cars or on them while not at home.
Those numbers are going up too, according to law enforcement.
Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said his department issued 5,000 permits in 2011, up from about 1,000 a few years ago.
"Part of it is, No. 1, people are becoming more educated about needing a license to carry in their car and on their person," Blakely said. "And people are a lot more concerned about crime."
Gun control laws are in the spotlight after a string of mass shootings this summer, including one in Tuscaloosa. Meanwhile, Republicans on a national and state level are pledging to protect citizens' Second Amendment rights. Democrats maintain that Obama has actually lessened restrictions.
"He's relaxed gun control legislation," said Bradley Davidson, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party. "He's done nothing to take away gun rights. It is totally unfounded and has no basis in fact."
Davidson added the president has angered some Democrats with two laws he signed allowing permitted guns in national parks and for gun owners to carry their firearms in checked bags on Amtrak trains.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave Obama an "F'' for failing to push gun control issues.
Gun advocates don't buy it, though. Even if they can't name anything he's done to limit their right to bear arms since 2008, they say Obama is not to be trusted on the issue.
"In my opinion, he would wait until his second term (to limit access to firearms)," Moses said.
In 2011, handguns were used in 61 percent of the 311 homicides in Alabama; rifles, shotguns and other firearms were used in 7 percent, according to statistics from the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center. Firearms were used in 28 percent of the 4,885 robberies committed in Alabama that year.
In 2007, handguns were used in 68 percent of all homicides; other firearms were used in 4 percent. Firearms were used in 58 percent of robberies.
Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/