Gun sales are booming in Montana, driven by a strong belief that President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats will tax and restrict everything from ammunition to pistols, according to gun buyers and sellers.
"Obama has been extremely good for business," said Rex Seeley, owner of Montana Outdoor Sports in Helena. "Guys are buying everything."
Gun enthusiasts nationwide are stocking up in apparent concern that tough new gun laws are on the way.
Last month, as an Obama win looked increasingly inevitable, there were more than 108,000 more background checks for gun purchases than in October 2007, a 15 percent increase. They were up about 8 percent for the year as of Oct. 26, according to the FBI.
No data was available for gun purchases this week, but gun shops from suburban Virginia to the Rockies report record sales since Tuesday's election.
Guns & Gear in Cheyenne, Wyo., set a one-day sales record on Tuesday, only to break that mark on Wednesday.
Jim Norgard of Roy said he saw the run on firearms coming, and stocked up on ammunition before the election. Browsing though books at a Helena gun show, Norgard said he understands why people are buying now rather than waiting.
"Oh yeah, there are restrictions coming. No doubt about it," he said.
Michael Reynolds looked at rifles at the gun show, and said he might buy one before Obama takes office.
"He will make it hard to buy one. It's just a matter of time," Reynolds said.
During a campaign in which he spent a lot of time and money in the gun-friendly West, including five stops in Montana, 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.
During an October appearance in Ohio, Obama sought to reassure gun owners. "I will not take your shotgun away," he said. "I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."
That has not eased the fears of gun owners.
Seeley said that among people in his store, he hears concern that all guns will be restricted, something Seeley finds highly unlikely.
Because of the speculation, Seeley said, people are buying everything, not just the pistols and assault rifles that he sees as the most likely focus of any potential restrictions. Even standard hunting rifles and shotguns are flying off the shelves, he said.
Ammunition, too. Seeley said he ordered 120,000 rounds over the past couple of days, and already has much of it pre-sold to his customers. He worries he might be unable to get more readily.
"While I am online placing my order, the product is disappearing," he said.
Seeley said he does not see an immediate end to the sales boom.
"Perhaps when people run out of money," he said.
While Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, attributes some of the sales boom to the tanking economy, he thinks the Democratic sweep is the top reason why guns are suddenly a hot commodity.
"I don't think he'll be able to stand up to that anti-Second-Amendment wing of the Democratic party that's just been spoiling for chance to ban America's guns," LaPierre said of Obama.
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.
But Mark Tushnet, a Harvard Law School professor who has written a book about the gun debate, said new firearms regulations will be a low priority for an Obama administration and Democratic Congress facing a global economic crisis and two wars.
"Maybe the gun show loophole will be closed, but not much else," he said in an e-mail. "I'd be surprised, for example, if Congress enacted a new assault gun ban."
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said his organization will continue to press for what he calls "sensible" restrictions - background checks at gun shows, a ban on military-style assault weapons and cracking down on illegal gun trade. He believes he has the backing of the new administration on those issues, but any fears of a broader crackdown are unfounded.
"The one thing that they agree strongly with us on is that it's too easy for dangerous people to get guns in this country," Helmke said. "I guess if you're a dangerous person you might want to run out there and buy some more, but otherwise you should be OK."