In the short term, this week’s election of Barack Obama to be the next president of the United States and Democratic gains in Congress have been good for Ralph McLeod’s gun business.
But the owner of Buyers’ Guns in Holden is worried about the long term.
That’s because McLeod, along with gun shop owners across Maine and the nation, are fearful of what they see as the coming liberal majority’s agenda in Washington as it pertains to gun control legislation.
“The Democrats in Congress have an assault rifle ban ready to go,” McLeod said. “They held on to it because they knew [President] Bush would pocket veto it, [but] most likely Obama will sign it.”
Concerns over different gun control legislation scenarios were publicized strongly by the National Rifle Association in the weeks leading up to the election and helped fuel a nationwide boom in the sale of assault rifles such as the AK-47 and AR-15.
During the campaign, the NRA warned that Obama would be the “most anti-gun president in American history.” And while Vice President-elect Joe Biden owns shotguns, he has supported a ban on assault weapons and has said private sellers at gun shows should be required to perform background checks.
In Maine, where trucks equipped with rifle racks are a common sight, there is concern among gun dealers over any changes in gun control legislation.
“The Democrats have a history of ramming gun control down our throats,” said Rick Lozier, manager at Van Raymond Outfitters in Brewer. “Legal gun owners are going to get screwed.”
Lozier points to the voting records of Obama, Biden and Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, who he said all have supported gun legislation in the past.
During the 2008 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Obama stopped short of saying he supported state licensing and registering of gun owners, but indicated he did support efforts by law enforcement to obtain the information required to trace back guns that have been used in crimes to unscrupulous gun dealers.
“We essentially have two realities, when it comes to guns, in this country,” Obama said during the debate. “You’ve got the tradition of lawful gun ownership. It is very important for many Americans to be able to hunt, fish, take their kids out, and teach them how to shoot. Then you’ve got the reality of 34 Chicago public school students who get shot down on the streets of Chicago. We can reconcile those two realities by making sure the Second Amendment is respected and that people are able to lawfully own guns, but that we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of firearms that we see on the streets.”
That’s the kind of statement that has McLeod, Lozier and Orrington gun dealer Don Barrett worried.
“Since the election, people are more or less scared and buying guns,” Barrett said. “The country has a more liberal government now and when it comes to firearms, they will disarm the entire country.”
As far as Lozier is concerned, steps to increase gun control, especially when it comes to assault rifles, have little meaning in a state like Maine where, he points out, most honest gun owners use their firearms for hunting.
“How many assault rifles do you see on the streets in Maine?” he said.
The problem, he said, is the criminal element bringing those weapons into the state for illegal purposes and that, he adds, has law-abiding Mainers worried given the increases in home break-ins and armed assaults.
“I haven’t seen a spike in gun sales but more of a shift to personal protection weapons like handguns and shotguns,” Lozier said. “I would probably see a spike in sales if not for the economy.”
Clayton Kelley, owner of Kelley’s Gun Shop in Limestone, also has seen an increase in the sale of weapons for personal protection.
“Most people are buying handguns,” Kelley said. “I’ve sold about 30 in the last month or two [and] lately everyone’s been worried about the election and afraid the government will take their guns away.”
At the Old Town Trading Post, sales are up but owner David Hanson said that’s normal given the start of deer hunting season in Maine.
However, Hanson did say that he, too, has seen an increased interest in handguns and people looking for handgun safety courses.
But it’s not just the handguns. The market for high-powered assault weapons in the state also has recently been fueled by fears of a possible ban.
“I’ve sold 100 [assault rifles] in the last three months,” McLeod said. “Last year over that same time I sold maybe 10 or 20.”
For the 10 years between 1994 and 2004, McLeod was unable to sell any assault rifles because of a ban on the weapons signed into law by President Clinton.
That law, McLeod said, was largely “cosmetic” as gun enthusiasts had only to remove the rifle’s flash hider and bayonet lugs to have the weapon classified as a “sporting weapon.”
This time around, McLeod fears, the proposed law will be much more stringent.
“They are modeling it after the Connecticut law,” he said. “That law has been taken to court and tested.”
Under the Connecticut law, the AR-15 and AK-47 assault rifles and their clones would be banned along with so-called high-capacity clips capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“This will be much wider-ranging,” McLeod said, adding that in the short range he stands to “make a pile of money,” but if a ban is passed, that business will dry up not only for gun dealers but also for the dozens of assault rifle manufacturers in this country.
Not everyone shares the gun dealers’ concerns.
“We don’t have a platform for gun control,” said Rebecca Pollard, communications director for the Maine Democratic Party. “This is nothing more than typical Republican fear-mongering.”
In fact, Pollard said members of her party tend to steer clear of gun control issues as many are themselves gun owners and avid recreational hunters.
Just how many of those gun owners are out there in Maine can only be estimated, as there are no federal laws requiring gun registrations.
Instead, according to Dale Armstrong, regional agent in charge at the Portland office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, anyone purchasing a gun through a reputable dealer at a store must fill out a form listing name, address and any criminal convictions.
That information is submitted to the ATF, which confirms the purchaser’s answers.
“The records of that check are destroyed after two weeks,” Armstrong said. “The original application form never leaves the gun dealer’s files.”
However, Armstrong pointed out, no such forms are required for sales between private individuals or at gun shows.
“The ATF can trace guns that are sold through dealers,” he said. “But there’s no saying what happens to a gun if a private individual sells it.”
As for any increases in actual gun sales in recent months, Armstrong said since there is no national registration documenting ownership, such information is largely anecdotal.
But the media are documenting a lot of information about gun sales.
Fort Worth’s Cheaper Than Dirt! gun store reported about $480,000 in sales in October 2007 but $890,000 last month, jumping to $1 million including the first four days of November.
Gun retailers in Kansas reported sales rose as much as 15 percent in the months before the election as most polls showed Obama leading Republican John McCain.
In the end, any talk of gun control or bans on certain weapons, McLeod said, will do nothing to increase the safety of the general public.
“The bad guys don’t care about assault rifles; they want handguns,” he said. “Do you think a criminal is going to take the time to fill out the proper documentation to legally buy a gun? In the end, the people you are trying to affect will not be affected by the law — there’s a reason they are criminals.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.