At the Guns and Ammo Warehouse they are reluctant to admit US President Barack Obama is right about much. But customers enjoy the thought that his campaign comment, that “bitter” small-town Americans are clinging to their guns, has proved more true than the president could have imagined.
Firearms sales have surged in the six months since Obama’s election as millions of Americans have gone on a buying spree that has stripped gun shops in some parts of the country almost bare of assault weapons and led to a national ammunition shortage.
Gun-shop owners and the National Rifle Association (NRA) say the surge is driven by worries that Obama is planning to ban many types of firearms and that the deepening economic crisis will fuel a crime wave.
But groups pressing for greater control on firearms accuse the NRA of funding a massive scare campaign to portray Obama as a gun owner’s worst nightmare.
Chris Howley, manager of the Guns and Ammo Warehouse, in Manassas, Virginia, says sales are up by at least 50 percent since Obama won the election — particularly of assault rifles after the president indicated he would revive a ban on the sale of semi-automatic weapons.
Brett Ross, owner of Grayghost Tactical, in Culpeper, Virginia, says his business is booming despite the economic climate. “All the hand guns are selling and I can’t get more in. I’m wearing a US$3,000 hand gun. That’s expensive and even they are sold out,” he says. “When the guns come in I sell in a day or two what used to sit on the wall for weeks.”
There is a consensus on all sides that the run on weapons began with a belief that Obama would tighten gun laws. Among other things, the NRA is funding a Web site that describes Obama as the “most anti-gun president in history” and accuses him of plotting to close every gun shop in the country.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence accuses the NRA of whipping up a hysteria that has driven up gun sales.
Chad Ramsey, the Brady Campaign’s senior associate director, says that the NRA has spent US$6.67 million campaigning against Obama.
This feeds more extreme views saying Obama is plotting a “socialist state” that will strip citizens of rights.
Howley says the political fears have been compounded by the economic crisis.
“A lot of our sales are to people who didn’t own guns before. Now they’re buying because of fear of rising crime,” he said.
With the surge in gun sales has come an increase in demand for ammunition creating a nationwide shortage of the most popular bullets used in semi-automatic pistols and military-style rifles.
Gun-shop owners are reluctant to question the thinking driving their profits, but Ross doubts Obama poses a real threat to gun ownership.
“A lot of this is rumors ... I don’t think there’s the political will in Congress for a ban on semi-automatics, and certainly not for more than that. But people believe what they want to believe,” he said.