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Fear drives rush to stockpile guns

Barack Obama said he would improve the economy. Turns out he already has, at least in one retail niche: gun sales.

Starting in the days before the election, gun shops across the state have been mobbed by buyers who fear that Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress will restrict firearm sales.

Many were stocking up on things such as assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and handguns that they think would be the most likely targets of new laws, though practically everything related to shooting has been selling more quickly.

“It's been an absolute madhouse,” said Trey Pugh, a manager at Jim's Pawn Shop in Fayetteville, which is selling 15 to 20 AR-15 assault rifles a day. “I'm getting guys come in and say I always wanted that gun, and give me that one too and that one and, oh, I need a gun safe, too.”

Distributors are running out of assault rifles, he said, and prices are rising.

On the stump, Obama didn't discuss sweeping changes to gun laws. But his stance that local authorities should be able to make “sensible” laws has worried some, as has the fact that many Democrats in Congress favor additional restrictions. The NRA, among others, stoked these fears during the election.

Many purchases appear to be panic buying, Pugh said, because the government could not pass new gun laws before next year. Between the election, fears that the sour economy will spur more crime, hunting season and Christmas sales, the next couple of months will likely be wild for firearms dealers, he said.

“Everybody, and I mean everybody, is buying guns right now,” Pugh said.

Stores in the Triangle, such as Young Guns in Apex and Perry's in Wendell, reported hectic sales and lines at cash registers.

“It's been tremendous,” said Barry Perry of Perry's Guns in Wendell.

“We have so many customers that parking has been a problem.”

Online gun and shooting supply shops say sales in recent weeks climbed along with Obama's poll numbers.

At Villagetactical.com in Oklahoma City, which concentrates mainly on gun parts, sales have doubled since summer, said owner Andy Glunt.

“Some of them have said that they think if they don't buy it now, they won't be able to later,” he said.

Fears of more regulation were fueled by an NRA campaign that said Obama would crack down on guns. That notion was amplified in gun forums such as glocktalk.com and AR15.com, where swarms of posters talked of having bought “Obama guns” or detailed election-related gun and ammo purchases. Some even speculated on things such as how a firearms confiscation plan would work.

Longtime handgun owner Bob Nitchke of Mooresville, who posts on glocktalk.com, isn't thrilled with the possibility of more regulation. But he thinks the panic over Obama is out of proportion to any threat.

“I don't think anything is going to happen, particularly in the first couple of years,” he said. “I just don't think it's a priority right now, because they've got bigger things to deal with, like the economy.”

Anything that's more extreme than the assault weapons ban, such as a bill to stop handgun sales, would be a political disaster, and just seems unlikely.

“What I do know is that gun stores are making a lot of money,” he said.

Political likelihoods

It's hard to gauge the likelihood of new laws. Obama has said that local jurisdictions should be able to impose regulations on guns to reduce crime on city streets. At the same time, he said owning guns, including handguns, is an American tradition and should remain legal.

Obama, who taught constitutional law, has said that he believes gun ownership is an individual right.

It's also unclear whether a serious push for regulation is likely from Congress. The number of Democrats there who support gun rights has been increasing. Also, the party fell short Tuesday of winning a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, leaving Republicans leverage against laws they don't like.

Still, many gun owners fear that Obama will cave in to demands from members of his party who harbor extreme anti-gun views, said Wayne LaPierre, vice-president of the National Rifle Association.

Obama campaigned as a supporter of gun rights, but the media never pinned him down completely on contradictions in his record, LaPierre said.

“The reason gun sales are rising is that gun owners and Second Amendment enthusiasts are justifiably suspicious,” he said.

A Clinton-era ban on some semi-automatic assault weapons and parts such as high-capacity, military-style magazines was a political disaster for the Democrats, said LaPierre. The party would pay an even higher political toll if Obama broke the implicit promises he made to gun owners during the campaign.

Expecting new laws

Alan Chapman, an IT professional who lives in Durham, bought a rifle similar to the AK-47 and a semi-automatic handgun in recent weeks because he expects tighter laws and higher prices. A neighbor bought a handgun for the same reason, he said.

“I just wish I could afford more,” Chapman said. “Prices are going to go up after the election just based on fear.”

He thinks the Democrats could attack permits to carry concealed weapons, but that the most likely change is a new assault weapons ban.

Glunt, the owner of the online shop, said he wasn't completely happy about that windfall.

“I'd rather have business a little slower and not have a threat to our Second Amendment,” he said.

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