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Arming for Armageddon?

People respond to tragedies in different ways. After Sept. 11, some Americans changed jobs or moved to avoid big cities. For others, nothing less than a gun would do.’s Shoshana Weinberg reports.
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People respond to tragedies in different ways. After Sept. 11, some Americans changed jobs or moved to avoid big cities. Others stocked up on Cipro, the drug that treats inhaled anthrax. For some, nothing short of a gun would do.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, gun sales increased dramatically, peaking in October 2001 at well more than 1 million. The increase, trumpeted as a turning point by the National Rifle Association and a disaster by gun control advocates, turned out to be short-lived, however. Almost nine months after the attack, the Justice Department’s figures on gun sales show them actually lagging behind monthly sales figures of a year ago.

The Professional Gun Retailers Association, which represents the gun industry from the manufacturers and distributors to the wholesalers, says the year-to-year sales comparisons are a bit deceiving.

When told of the decrease in sales from the year 2000-2001, association spokesman Andy Molchan said that those who were considering purchasing a gun did so right after Sept. 11. The slowdown, therefore, “is natural, since those who would buy a gun already have,” he said.

The retailers association also says that gun owners appear to be upgrading or adding to their arsenals, and that the market for expensive and exotic firearms is still strong. Moving to take advantage of that, and the surge in patriotism after Sept. 11, some manufacturers even marketed “limited edition” weapons with patriotic themes like the “United We Stand” from Beretta. The company, which makes self-defense and recreational guns, donated $50,000 from sales of the 9 mm to The Survivors’ Fund of The Community Foundation, which offers long-term support for victims and families affected by the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon. Another $50,000 is to be given to the New York City Police Foundation.

Workshops take off
While gun sales may not be soaring, gun workshop attendance is up. John Green, spokesman for the Gun Owners’ Action League, in Massachusetts, said that “attendance at workshops has increased tenfold” in his area.

He said post-Sept. 11 security concerns might be responsible for some of increase but that

even prior to the attacks, the seminars were becoming a mainstream recreational activity.

The gun owners’ group has been holding workshops that cater to specific groups, including women and high school teachers. Green denied that the workshops for teachers were related to fatal shootings at American high schools. “People enjoy the confidence they build up,” he said. “One woman told me, ‘It sure as hell beats doing the laundry.’ ”

The Professional Gun Retailers Association says there has been a similar increase in workshops nationwide.

While anecdotal data about gun workshops suggests a growing interest in the use of guns for self-defense, that interest isn’t reflected in sales. Nor, according to national surveys, does it reflect a shift in the long-running national gun debate.

For years, Americans have debated whether having a gun in the home makes the home safer, or whether it merely increases the chances of a tragic accident. Sept. 11 has not settled that debate.

Tom Smith, who conducted a national gun policy survey for the University of Chicago in 1999, says an increase in gun sales of 4 percent to 8 percent should not be viewed as unusual in the current atmosphere. Smith noted that in past times of crisis, fear led Americans to take what seemed like practical action — building fallout shelters during the early years of the Cold War, for instance.

“People are not making drastic changes,” he told He said his 1999 study, which found the country fairly evenly split on the question of whether a gun in the house makes the home more secure, is likely to stand the test of time.

Meanwhile, no let-up in debate

But the battle between the gun industry and gun-control advocates rages on.

The group called Publishers’ Development Corp. Shooting Industry claims that “The anti-gun movement continues to use tragedies to further its agenda. In a shameless move to exploit the Sept. 11 attacks, Handgun Control Inc. released a hastily assembled report linking American gun sales to terrorism.

The report, titled, “Guns and Terror: How Terrorists Exploit Our Weak Gun Laws,” was released in mid-December at a news conference in Washington, D.C.

“For terrorists around the world, the United States is the great gun bazaar,” said Michael Barnes, president of Handgun Control Inc.

“The irresponsibility of the gun industry, as well as irrational statutory restraints on federal record keeping of gun sales and other necessary enforcement tools, allows corrupt gun dealers to funnel guns to terrorists,” says the group’s report.

That said, none of the alleged terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks carried firearms.