(Photo by Michelle Felter, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Christmas shopping and hunting season typically makes this a busy time for gun dealers. This year it's expected to be even busier.
Gun enthusiasts in the area and nationwide are stocking up on firearms out of fears that the combination of an Obama administration and a Democrat-dominated Congress will result in tough new gun laws.
"People are afraid that they are not going to be able to buy them in the future, especially the semiautomatic weapons," said Joe Gooch, owner of Southern Rod and Gun in Sikeston. "The political conditions are right now to see some gun control issues. Democrats now have control on everything in Washington."
He estimated that, since Election Day, he's seen a 200 to 300 percent increase in gun sales.
At Bo's Jewelry and Pawn in Sikeston, owner Terri Hurley also reported an increase in sales of handguns and long guns, such as rifles, since the election. The long gun sales, she said, are likely due to the hunting season.
Alan Reiman, owner of Re-Armms Inc. in Sikeston, said he's also seen an increase in demand. "It's been busy," he said. Reiman said he keeps up with the news, especially concerning gun ownership, and said the local scene is a good reflection of what reports are across the nation.
According to the FBI, background checks increased 15 percent in October from the same month in 2007, as the win by Barack Obama looked increasingly inevitable.
President-elect Obama has said he respects Americans' Second Amendment right to bear arms, but that he favors ''common sense'' gun laws. Gun rights advocates interpret that as meaning he'll at least enact curbs on ownership of assault and concealed weapons.
As a U.S. Senator, Obama voted to leave gun-makers and dealers open to lawsuits; and as an Illinois state legislator, he supported a ban on semiautomatic weapons and tighter restrictions on all firearms.
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.
The comments of local gun shop owners reflect those fears.
"They look at some of the proposed legislation, and they want to get them while they can," agreed Reiman. He said he and others expect the president elect to run the country similar to how he has in Illinois, which has the toughest gun control laws, and also the highest crime.
"Most people tell me they are buying because they are afraid of this Congress and this president," said Gooch. "The Democrats are just not big gun people and they're the ones that we see come out with all these regulations against guns."
But some aren't scrambling just to buy guns -- they are also selling them out of fear. Hurley recalled one man who brought in two guns to sell recently.
"He said that he would rather sell them on his own than for them to be taken from him," Hurley said.
Gooch said he thinks there is a real cause for concern -- but he's not sure how much.
"Are they going to outlaw all guns? I hope not," he said. "We don't know to what extent, but I think we will see some regulations."
Hurley agreed, but said she thinks the hype was just to benefit the election.
"A lot of things are said in a political race to try to get the most interest. Sometimes we never see anything from it once the election is over, and sometimes we do," said Hurley. "But the right to bear arms is something this country was built on, and it would be difficult to take that away."
The store owners have seen both men and women scrambling to purchase guns and ammunition.
Reiman, who also offers courses to carry concealed weapons, said the classes are filling up more quickly, too.
And the demand can leave sellers in a bind -- or people looking to buy with fewer options. "It is very difficult to replace our inventory," said Gooch, "because there is so much demand nationwide."
Hurley agreed. "We're definitely needing to make another order," she said. "And there are a lot of guns I'd like to carry, that are just out of stock."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.