Armed America: Behind a broadening run on guns
Firearms sales have their cycles, but types of buyers – and their motivations – have shifted.
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The fears are in some cases taking on a Y2K-like fervor, forecasting total social meltdown. In times such as these, Americans have always reached for their guns, says David Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute, a free-market-oriented think tank in Golden, Colo. He digs up a clipping from a Massachusetts newspaper published three months before the "Shot Heard Around the World" that started the Revolutionary War. The article documented a vast gunpowder shortage blamed on "wolves and other beasts of prey" lurking about. Modern fears are fueled by the prospect of an apocalyptic economic failure.Skip to next paragraph
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"The logic is simple," says Tom Lee, a member of the Virginia Citizen Militia, which traces its roots to the Revolutionary War. "People are seeing a looming economic collapse that will lead to a prolonged and possibly worsening breakdown of law and order and, eventually, a We-the-People vs. armed-government-enforcers scenario. I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees through the Keynesian scam and sees the wisdom in preparing for the worst."
In Missouri, state police recently sent out a report on militia activity warning officers to be suspicious of, among other things, cars with Ron Paul bumper stickers. (The state subsequently removed references to politicians and political parties in response to an outcry.)
But while total numbers of guns sold is up in the US, some Americans wonder if the buy-up isn't more tied to business potential than fears of upheaval. Airline pilot Jim Hamilton, a member of the newly formed Liberal Gun Club in Dallas, describes watching a businessman in a red golf shirt and Dockers pants emptying a whole shelf of .45 caliber ammo into a shopping bag at a gun store.
"He had every intention of cleaning off the shelf, and he looked up at me and smiled like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar," says Mr. Hamilton. "I was expecting stockpilers to be kind of the ex-military guy in 'camo' burying it in his backyard for a zombie invasion. Now, I'm inclined to believe that people are not stockpiling for self-defense or civil unrest, but as an investment. Maybe they're not as worried about political issues as turning a profit."
Mr. Winchester, the sheriff in Enid, Okla., has the same thought. "Guns have always been a good investment," he says. "Guns are as good as gold."