Metro Shooting Supplies is about 10 miles west of the spot in Ferguson, Mo. where Michael Brown was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. And since then, sales have been booming.
"Historically in August, it's very slow," owner Steve King told The Washington Post by phone, "because people are getting ready to go back to school." Not this August. "We have made the same amount of money since Monday the 11th -- almost as much money as we did the entire month of July. It's unbelievable. It's four times, five times the volume." He compared the volumes favorably with sales during the "Obamascare" -- the fear of new gun controls after the Sandy Hook shooting -- that prompted big sales in 2013. "When you're posed with losing your firearms, you buy guns," King said. "When you're posed with losing your life, you buy more guns."
But a few blocks away, at Trail Creek Trade Co., vice president Tim Wheeler told the post that sales were "just slightly up." The store has sold a lot more self-defense weapons -- shotguns and handguns. But "it's just not noticeable. No 50 percent, 100 percent spike, anything like that."
Wheeler's modest sale increase was perhaps unusual given how close to Ferguson his store is. Beyond the outskirts of St. Louis, though, there has been almost no effect on sales of weapons. At Franklin's Firearms in Troy, Mo., owner Scott Franklin said sales have been "about steady." "We stay barely busy," he said, "but it has not increased dramatically."
Locations of gun stores the Post spoke with. The darker the icon, the more the increase in sales since the Brown shooting.
Owner Nick Watts of Nick's Gun and Pawn in Washington, Mo., agreed. "I don't see that it has affected it us that much out here," he told the Post. "Most people out here are extremely level-headed. So it's not like, look what's happening in Ferguson, let's go arm ourselves to the teeth and lock ourselves in the closet."
Even in Alton, Ill., not much further from Ferguson than Metro Shooting Supplies, sales were flat. Mike Byrd, owner of Trader's Guns and Diamonds, said that his shop had "no increase from that action at all." King of Metro Shooting told the Post that "100 percent of our gun sales were attributed to the chaos in Ferguson" -- with the exception of a few people buying .22 rifles for squirrel hunting. "The whole town is talking about it." Not so in Alton, Byrd said. "No, we haven't really heard anyone talk about it that much, to be honest with you. Not trying to say it's a different morality over there," he said, "but most of the blacks and white I know in this area, they get along really good." People in Alton apparently aren't locking themselves in closets, either.
The gun store that is probably closest to Ferguson is County Guns, which is just north of Highway 270, just off of West Florissant Avenue, the epicenter of the protests. "My phone is ringing off the hook with people looking for guns," owner Adam Weinstein told the Post. "Lately, since this has happened, my phone calls from people saying, 'Hey, I want a pistol, 'Hey I want a shotgun,' have gone from one a month to several a day."
His shop no longer does a lot of in-store sales, but helps customers, most of them first responders -- Weinstein is a firefighter -- with Internet transactions. The rationale was the unrest, he said. "People are definitely concerned and people who aren't armed are definitely arming themselves."
Weinstein moved the remaining weapons in his store to an offsite storage facility. His motivation was reports of looting. "We didn't want to take any chances of them getting their hands on any weapons if they decided to break into the store," he said. While he can monitor the store remotely, he couldn't get there fast enough if someone tried to break in. Metro Shooting Supplies' King said that some store owners in the area were buying weapons to keep in their shops -- and then staying in them overnight.
Store owners closer to Ferguson seemed to worry that the unrest could spread -- and, one predicted, it would if Wilson isn't indicted. King explained the tangible fear of people coming into his shop. "It's like having a multi-million dollar home and thinking, 'Hey, I need to put a fire extinguisher in here. And you don't do that until the forest behind your house is engulfed in fire. ... The people in Ferguson are seeing the fire in their backyard." So far, though, it seems as if people who can only see the smoke haven't been similarly compelled.