Armed and nervous

Fears rise that Democrats will assault Second Amendment rights

Posted: Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ANCHORAGE - On the neatly stacked ammunition shelves at the Alaska Shooters Supply is a sign: "There is no such thing as too much ammo."

Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News
Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News

But in recent days, there has been concern about too little.

Over the past week, ammunition has been selling by the pallet-load at the shop. Guns, particularly military-style weapons, are a hot ticket.

And high-capacity magazines were selling so well, the Boniface Parkway shop ran out the week of the Nov. 4 election.

That's no coincidence. Fear of stiffer gun laws after Barack Obama's successful presidential bid and a Congress with a larger Democratic edge is prompting gun enthusiasts across the country to stock up in record numbers.

"Obama is the best gun salesman we've had in the last 50 years," said Jack Murray, Alaska Shooters Supply owner. "We sold more guns (the day after the election) than I have on any one particular day in 21 years. I was crying all the way to the bank."

Through last week, his shop was pulling in between three and six times its daily sales average, Murray said. The store sold 18 rifles Wednesday, compared with five or six on a normal day. Semiautomatics, assault rifles, large magazines and military-caliber ammunition were flying off the shelves, he said.

"They're not buying by the box. They're buying by the case," Murray said.

The scene at Murray's store was repeating itself across Anchorage and the country. The rush appears to have started building before Election Day as Obama and his party looked to be headed for a big day at the ballot box.

Surge in background checks

Through this Sept. 30, the FBI had conducted 8.47 million background checks on prospective gun owners, compared with 7.84 million through that date in 2007, according to data compiled for the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. That amounts to an 8 percent increase.

The trend intensified last month when, as an Obama win looked increasingly inevitable, there were more than 108,000 more background checks for gun purchases than in October 2007, a 15 percent increase.

"People are absolutely petrified of unilateral and silly increases in ammunition taxes. I've probably sold 70- or 80,000 rounds of ammunition over the past couple of days," Ken Feinman, manager of Wild West Guns off Homer Drive and East 71st Avenue, said Thursday. "I think there's an element of panic going on, and it's pretty much universal among all the shops here."

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, also thinks the Democratic surge is a top reason guns are suddenly a hot commodity.

"I don't think he'll be able to stand up to that anti-Second Amendment wing of the Democratic Party that's just been spoiling for a chance to ban America's guns," LaPierre said of Obama.

Throughout his campaign, Obama voiced support for the right to bear arms and vowed to protect gun-ownership rights. However, he does favor "common sense" gun laws and has voted as a lawmaker to leave gun-makers and dealers open to lawsuits. As an Illinois state lawmaker, he supported a ban on all forms of semiautomatic weapons and tighter state restrictions on firearms in general.

It's not surprising, then, that the pro-gun control Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence endorsed Obama and called his win Tuesday "a major victory."

NRA targets Obama

But Obama's record on guns also impassioned groups like the NRA, which waged a spirited, multimillion-dollar campaign portraying him as a threat to gun owners. In the days before the election, the association's political arm issued a "special election message" equating a vote for Obama to a vote against gun ownership.

"Barack Obama has such a long, openly anti-gun record that he cannot hide his true stance," the statement says. "Obama, with his career of supporting every gun control scheme he's ever encountered, represents a real threat to Second Amendment rights."

Gun advocates take some solace in the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 this summer to strike down the District of Columbia's 32-year ban on handguns. For now, gun rights supporters hold a narrow edge on the court, but Obama could appoint justices who would swing it the other way.

Meanwhile, gun sales remained strong and steady at Anchorage shops like Wild West Guns, where sales Thursday were up 700 percent over the same time last year and 300 percent for the month overall, Feinman said. Based on talk in the aisles, there was no doubt the surge was in response to the election, he said.

The spike there also included weapons like semiautomatic military rifles - those that were banned under Bill Clinton's administration - which have historically been targeted by gun control proponents, he said.

Feinman's clients include people from all walks, he said - doctors, lawyers and police officers. All of them are concerned Obama will take aim at gun ownership, he said.

"Obviously, there's a great deal of fear that the new administration, rather than concentrating on fighting crime, is going to pick on legitimate gun owners," Feinman said. "I think there's some legitimate concern on the part of the people. I just think they should take a deep breath and calm down a little bit and perhaps think of ways other than just buying."

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