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Gun Sales Thriving In Uncertain Times

Warrenton gun shop owner Steve Clark said buyers fear restrictions on weapons that have been restricted before.
Warrenton gun shop owner Steve Clark said buyers fear restrictions on weapons that have been restricted before. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, 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 specialists said.

"Generally, we know that hard economic times always result in firearm sales," said James M. Purtilo of Silver Spring, who publishes the Tripwire Newsletter.

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.

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