Surprise winner of Obama stimulus spending: gun industry

Police departments are using some of the stimulus money to arm up, helping to make Obama 'gun salesman of the century.'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Many gun-loving Americans are convinved that President Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress are bent on ripping rifles from their "cold, dead hands," as actor Charlton Heston once declared at a National Rifle Association meeting.

But from the perspective of police departments – not to mention gunmakers – the Obama administration may go down as one of the most gun-friendly in history. Across America, police departments are using the taxpayer-funded stimulus bill to boost their arsenals with shotguns, handguns, and assault rifles.

Among the general public, a record 1 million guns were sold across the United States in August alone, rebuffing expectations that, after 10 months, the post-Obama election gun-buying spree would abate. US gunmaker Smith & Wesson on Wednesday reported a 30 percent rise in sales in the first quarter, leading to unexpected profits and a rising stock price.

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But as police departments order new firearms using stimulus funds, there's more than a little irony in the fact that a president whom the gun industry looked upon with suspicion has put forward a federal program from which gunmakers are benefiting.

"Gun culture magazines in the '90s named [President] Clinton 'gun salesman of the year,' but I think Obama, without even trying, has become gun salesman of the century," says Brian Anse Patrick, a gun culture expert at the University of Toledo, and author of the forthcoming book "Rise of the Anti-Media."

"One of the largest concerns has been that consumer firearms demand might slow dramatically from Obama-led frenzy levels," Eric Wold, a Merriman Curhan Ford analyst, told the Associated Press this week. "However, not only did consumer sales increase 29 percent, but law-enforcement and international sales jumped 32 percent and 12 percent, respectively."

Take the city of Jeffersonville, Ind. Police there are spending $63,000 of their stimulus bill money to buy 74 new assault rifles for their police cruisers.

The Barre, Vt., police department used stimulus money to buy six new handguns, 21 Taser guns, and five new shotguns, including one nonlethal version that shoots bean bags.

As part of its request for stimulus funds, Arlington, Texas, included $56,000 for military-grade carbines.

And in a neat twist, Smyrna, Ga.-based gunmaker Glock recently received $960 in stimulus funds to equip three federal Recovery Act antifraud officers in Washington with new sidearms. They might come in handy, as Washington is increasingly worried about scams and fraud involving stimulus bill dispersals.

Of course, the biggest chunk of the $4 billion in stimulus money intended for law enforcement is to hold onto officers and hire an estimated 5,600 new officers across the US. Most extra funds are being used not for guns but for other equipment – including cruisers and computers.

But Andy Molchan, director of the Professional Gun Retailers Association in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., says part of the growing profit statements from gunmakers such as Ruger, Smith & Wesson, and Sig come courtesy of the American taxpayer by way of some of America's 14,000 police jurisdictions.

"If there's money there, an agency is going to try to spend it," says Mr. Molchan. "They like to upgrade when they can."

But the interests of the gun industry aren't always the same as those of civil libertarians, many of whom are gun owners, says Mr. Patrick. The issue of police militarization is of particular concern, he says. "There's been a sort of creeping sociological phenomenon out there, where people are wondering, 'How many guns do the police need?' "

The fact that the stimulus package is helping to prop up gunmakers is proof to some even within the gun industry that fears about major gun-control legislation in the US are, at least for now, unfounded.

"The gun industry is always worried, but it's basically kind of a collection of worry warts as far as firearms legislation goes," says Mr. Molchar. "I think the Democrats have realized that for a long time they were the victims of their own [antigun] propaganda."

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