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Gun sales up since election

THE NATION

Some buyers fear a loss of rights under Obama; others say they're stocking up to prepare for civil unrest.

November 12, 2008|Howard Witt | Witt writes for the Chicago Tribune.

HOUSTON — A week after the election of the nation's first black president, gun buyers across the country are flocking to gun stores to stock up on assault rifles, handguns and ammunition.

Some say they are worried that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama will attempt to re- impose the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004. Others fear the loss of their right to own handguns. A few say they are preparing to protect themselves in the event of a race war.

But whatever the reason, gun dealers in red and blue states alike say they've never seen anything like the run on weaponry they've been experiencing since election day, surpassing the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"People are terrified of losing their right to protect themselves," said DeWayne Irwin, owner of Cheaper Than Dirt, a large gun store in Fort Worth. "The volume is 10 times what we ever expected. It started with assault rifles, but at this point, people are buying ammunition, high capacity magazines, Glocks -- it's all flying off the shelf.

"With the economy the way it is, people are worried about instability. They are scared of civil unrest."

There are no nationwide figures on gun sales available yet to document a post-election trend, and the number of pre-purchase background checks conducted by the FBI -- a major barometer of national gun sales -- actually rose more slowly through Oct. 31 of this year than during comparable periods in 2007 and 2006.

But anecdotal reports from around the nation suggest the sudden surge of November gun-buying is far surpassing the normal hunting-season spike that often occurs at this time of year.

At the Memorial Shooting Center in Houston, a popular gun store and firing range that shares a building with a church, managers said they sold out their stock of assault weapons a day after the election and are now adding orders, at more than $1,000 each, to a monthlong waiting list.

In Colorado, state authorities said they set a record for background checks on gun purchasers on the Saturday before the election -- and the requests have been growing ever since.

Not every gun enthusiast is so worried. Mark Greene, a hunter and member of Gun Owners for Obama, led a grass-roots campaign for the Democratic nominee in Tarrant County, Texas. Greene said he regarded fears of a looming ban on assault weapons as unfounded.

"People are being pretty reactionary," Greene said. "There's a small contingent of folks in and out of the gun-owning community concerned that Obama's election is such a revolutionary change that it could portend mayhem. I think it's hysteria."

Obama's record on gun rights is conflicting enough to give ammunition to either side.

Obama's campaign website said he "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and promised that he would "protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns."

Seeking to reassure gun owners, Obama told a campaign audience in Ohio in October: "I will not take your shotgun away. I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."

But Obama has also said he favors "common sense" gun laws, and as an Illinois state legislator he voted to support a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and tighter restrictions on all firearms. He has said in the past that he opposes allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons.

The sum of those positions prompted the National Rifle Assn. to warn its members during the campaign that Obama "would be the most anti-gun president in American history."

Obama "says he's in favor of common sense gun laws," Irwin said. "Well, what people up north think is common sense is something different from us down here in Texas. The criminals have all this illegal stuff. I don't want to fight them with a handgun if I can get an AK. I'm entitled to that. I should be able to defend my home."

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