Fears that Democrats will reintroduce a ban on assault weapons have led to a surge in sales across the country, and that includes gun stores in Beaufort and Jasper counties.
U.S. gun sales are up in the wake of President Barack Obama's re-election Nov. 6, driven by worries he will be more aggressive about gun regulations in his second term, especially for firearms that might be classified as assault weapons, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation and national news outlets.
Such concerns are widely recognized as the cause of a similar increase in firearm sales when Obama was first elected in 2008.
Ed Soto, CEO of Palmetto Indoor Range & Sporting Goods in Hardeeville, said demand for semiautomatic rifles is being stoked by comments from Democrats and Obama about reintroducing an assault weapon ban enacted by former President Bill Clinton.
That ban, which expired in 2004, didn't eliminate the weapon-- but it did restrict their features, limit magazine capacity and regulate pistol grips, bayonet attachments and suppressors.
Obama largely avoided the issue of gun control during his first term, but recent mass shootings -- notably a July 20 rampage at a cinema in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 -- have brought the debate on guns back to the forefront, according to some gun-rights advocates.
Although little has been done by the White House to tighten gun control, during the Oct. 16 presidential debate, Obama clarified past statements that he would keep AK-47s "out of the hands of criminals."
He said "weapons that were designed for soldiers in war theaters don't belong on our streets."
The president also said he wants "a broader conversation about how do we reduce the violence generally. Part of it is seeing if we can get an assault-weapons ban reintroduced."
As a result, sales of AK-47 and AR-15 rifles have picked up considerably, said Soto, of Palmetto Indoor Range & Sporting Goods. Sales overall have doubled since Obama's election in 2008, he said.
"Assault weapons have always been popular, but they're even bigger sellers now," he said. "I am constantly trying to replenish my stock, and I can't because wholesalers are selling out. My Smith & Wesson rep says they're building them as quick as they can, but there's too much demand for their supply."
Soto said customers also are skeptical of a proposed United Nations small-arms treaty, which the National Rifle Association strongly opposes. U.S. officials have said the treaty would have no effect on domestic gun sales or ownership because it would apply only to exports.At Palmetto State Armory in Okatie, customers were snatching up handguns during the store's "tax-free" Black Friday sale.
Customers lined up at 5:15 a.m. before doors opened at 6 a.m., manager Bill Turcotte said.
"Our sales are up about 30 percent since the election," Turcotte said. "Many of the purchases are handguns for home protection. People fear, with the economy still in a rut, that robberies, burglaries and home break-ins will continue to rise. We've seen a substantial increase, for example, in retirees and women buying handguns to protect themselves, as well as training to use them."
Sales of ammunition has skyrocketed, as well, and the shop's concealed-weapons classes are booked two to three months in advance, he said.
Customer, gun owner and Sun City Hilton Head resident Loren Power said he fears Obama will run tighter gun-control laws through Congress, making it more difficult to own a semiautomatic version of military rifles, specifically the AR-15.
"They tried to ban them once before, and it didn't work," Power said. "But with (Obama) back in office, I fear they will get it passed. A friend of mine actually bought three of them and 5,000 rounds of ammunition. ... He said one is for him, and the others are to sell on the black market when Obama bans them."
Effingham, Ga., resident Timothy Kirkland, who looked at the armory's AK-47s but walked away with only ammunition and a rifle grip, said he shares those fears.
Radford, Va., resident Kevin Gillies, however, isn't swayed by the hysteria.
"I don't feel my gun rights are in jeopardy," said Gillies, who shot handguns at Palmetto Indoor Range with his nephew, whom he was visiting for the holidays. "I think a lot of it is NRA scare tactics."