Gun Sales Thriving
In Uncertain Times. Why now?
Warrenton gun shop owner Steve Clark said buyers fear restrictions on
weapons that have been restricted before. (By John Mcdonnell - The
Washington Post. October 27,
2008. Americans have cut back on buying cars, furniture and clothes in a
tough economy, but there's one consumer item that's still enjoying
healthy sales: guns. Purchases of firearms and ammunition have risen 8
to 10 percent this year, according to state and federal data.
Several variables drive sales, but many dealers, buyers and experts
attribute the increase in part to concerns about the economy and fears
that if Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois wins the presidency, he will join
with fellow Democrats in Congress to enact new gun controls. Obama has
said that he believes in an individual right to bear arms but that he
also supports "common-sense safety measures."
"Even though [Obama] has a lot going for him, he's not very pro-gun,"
said Paul Pluff, a spokesman for Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson,
which has reported higher sales. Gun enthusiasts are "going to go out
and get [firearms] while they still can."
Gun purchases have also been climbing because of the worsening economy,
which fuels fears of crime and civil disorder, industry sources and
"Generally, we know that hard economic times always result in firearm
sales," said James M. Purtilo of Silver Spring, who publishes the
Gary Kleck, a researcher at Florida State University's College of
Criminology and Criminal Justice whose work was cited in the District's
recent Supreme Court gun-control case, said that although there are no
scientific studies linking gun sales and economic conditions, people
often buy firearms during periods of uncertainty. People often buy
weapons because of concerns about personal safety or government actions
to limit access to firearms, causing spikes in sales, Kleck said.
Industry experts and law enforcement officials point to several examples
over the years. In 1994, there was a rush to buy guns when President
Bill Clinton pushed for a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles.
Handgun sales jumped last year after the massacre at Virginia Tech as
some worried about personal protection and others feared sweeping
restrictions on handguns, pushing applications for concealed gun permits
in Virginia alone up 60 percent. People also rushed to buy guns after
the 1992 riots in Los Angeles and the breakdown of order in New Orleans
after Hurricane Katrina.
Bob Leyshion, who visited a gun shop in Manassas recently, said the
economic crisis and Obama's lead in the polls were on his mind.
"People are preparing for catastrophe right now," said Leyshion, 55, of
Nokesville. "It's insurance. With the stock market crash and people out
of work, and the illegal aliens in this area, the probability of civil
disorder is very high."
Gun owners haven't been especially thrilled about the prospect of Sen.
John McCain in the White House. They see the Arizona Republican as less
of a threat than Obama, but they are still angry over McCain's support
for certain gun-control measures in the past, such as requiring
purchasers at gun shows to undergo background checks.
Gun owners said McCain's moose-hunting running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah
Palin, is far more likely to champion Second Amendment rights.
"The industry and sportsmen have not been in love with McCain, but the
selection of Palin wiped that all away," said Anthony Aeschliman, a
spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
More than three dozen interviews with gun dealers and buyers in Virginia
and Maryland and with experts nationwide indicated that the increase in
gun sales appears to be driven predominantly by concerns about the
presidential election and the economy.
Gun buyers were more likely to say they were responding to the political
situation than to the economy, and all but three people said they feared
that Obama would restrict gun rights.
Most buyers who emphasized the economy said they thought the worsening
situation could lead to an increase in crime and jeopardize their
safety. A few said they were buying guns as an investment.
"Look at the political situation and the financial situation," said Fred
Russell, owner of Russell's Gun Emporium in Hagerstown, Md. "It's common
sense. People are scared."
Brad, 42, and Margaret Marcus, 47, who were at a Fairfax County shooting
range recently with their two children for weekly target practice, said
they sped up the purchase of two semiautomatic rifles that had been
banned during the Clinton administration because they feared they could
become illegal again if Obama wins. The couple, who run an online
retailing business from their Ashburn home, said they viewed Obama's
remarks about protecting the Second Amendment as campaign trail
"I think right now people are scared Obama is going to take their rights
away," said Margaret Marcus, who was carrying a Glock 19 9mm
semiautomatic pistol under a blue jean jacket embroidered with "Winnie
the Pooh" characters. "He's definitely anti-gun, despite what you see in
the mainstream media."
Law enforcement and industry data and anecdotal reports show that guns
are selling well this year. In 2008, there were 8.4 million background
checks from Jan. 1 to Sept. 28, compared with 7.7 million in the same
period last year, a 9 percent increase, according to the FBI's National
Instant Criminal Background Check System.
The increase is also notable because it follows a heavy year for gun
purchases, which industry officials and experts link to the Virginia
Tech shootings in April 2007 and a burgeoning housing market crisis.
NICS checks show a 20 percent increase in April 2007, compared with the
This year's jump is a continuation of a trend that began in 2006, about
the time the housing bubble popped in parts of the nation, and remained
steady last year as the political season began to take shape and the
housing crisis grew. It is also a bigger jump than the average annual
increases of about 5 percent or less typical since instant background
checks began in 1998.
Federal tax data also show that quarterly excise taxes collected on
sales of firearms and ammunition have increased about 10 percent this
year, compared with last year, according to the National Shooting Sports
Gunmakers see the same trend. "We're ahead of last year," said Pluff, of
Smith & Wesson. "There's a few things that drive the market, and one of
them is political elections."
On a recent weekend, a crowd of lookers and buyers milled around in the
Virginia Arms Co. in Manassas. Some were shopping for large-capacity
magazines, or clips, that attach to firearms and hold additional rounds
of ammo. Those were banned during the Clinton administration and became
legal again when the ban expired.
"I'm looking for gun clips because I got the funny feeling that prices
are going to rise, or they're going to be banned," said Wayne Heglar,
48, who lives in Aldie and builds custom motorcycles. Heglar said he
also planned to stock up on ammo.
"When the Democrats are in office, it seems like anti-gunners come out
of the woodwork," Heglar said. He said he expected Obama to use tax law
to restrict gun ownership. "A bullet will be a luxury," he said.
At Clark Brothers Gun Shop in Warrenton, a sign over the door says:
"Experts Agree . . . Gun Control Works!" Underneath are photos of
Hitler, Stalin, Fidel Castro and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi. There
are also posters that criticize Obama's record on guns.
Steve Clark, the shop's owner, said customers have been buying weapons
they fear would be restricted and that have been before, such as Colt
AR-15s, semiautomatic rifles that go for $1,100.
"What I hear a lot is fear that Barack will win the election and tax
everything to the point that you can't afford anything," said salesman
Eugene Proko, 51.
Source: Washington Post
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