In American crisis, anger and guns

By Bernd Debusmann
March 19, 2009

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate
– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

In the first two months of this year, around 2.5 million Americans bought guns, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008. It was great news for gun makers and a sign of a dark mood in the country.

Gun sales shot up almost immediately after Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential elections on November 4 and firearm enthusiasts rushed to stores, fearing he would tighten gun controls despite campaign pledges to the contrary.

After the November spike, gun dealers say, a second motive has helped drive sales: fear of social unrest as the ailing economy pushes the newly destitute deeper into misery. Many of the newly poor come from the relentlessly rising ranks of the unemployed. In February alone, an average of 23,000 people a day lost their jobs.

Tent cities for the homeless have expanded outside a string of American cities, from Sacramento and Phoenix to Atlanta and Seattle, for people who are living the American dream in reverse. First they lose their jobs, then their health insurance, then their homes, then their hopes. The encampments are reminiscent of Third World refugee camps.

Often former members of the middle class, tent dwellers’ accounts of their plight to television cameras have a common theme: “I never thought this could happen to me.” Unlike the victims of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that destroyed much of New Orleans, many of the newly-poor are white.

The FBI says it carried out 1,213,885 criminal background checks on prospective firearms buyers in January and 1,259,078 in February, jumps of 28% and 23.3% respectively. Keen demand turned the stocks of publicly-trade firearms companies like Smith & Wesson (up 80% since November) and Sturm Ruger (up more than 100%) into shining stars on the New York Stock Exchange.

There are no statistics on how many guns are bought by people who think they need them to defend themselves against desperate fellow citizens.

But, as columnist David Ignatius put it in the Washington Post, “there’s an ugly mood developing as people start looking for villains to blame for the economic mess.” In November, an analysis published by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute listed “unforeseen economic collapse” as one of the possible causes of future “widespread civil violence.”

The American economy is down but not out, and in mid-March some experts reported signs that the pace of the decline was slowing. But it hasn’t slowed enough to sweep away the sense of anxiety and fear that comes through in many conversations and commentaries about the future of this normally optimistic country.

While Obama’s approval rating remains high, at 59%, almost two thirds of the population thinks the country is on the wrong track, according to a poll commissioned by National Public Radio in mid-March.

“What is really remarkable about all this is that there hasn’t been social unrest,” remarked an executive with business interests in Latin American countries where riots and street demonstrations in response to economic squeezes are routine. “The conditions for it are all there.”

ANGER ABOUT BAILOUTS

Anger is building. Just under half of those surveyed in a poll by the Pew Research Center this month expressed anger about “bailing out banks and financial institutions that made poor decisions.” The poll was taken before details became known of the full extent of the bonus-paying spree to members of the very team that brought the insurance giant AIG close to collapse.

The government propped up AIG with close to $200 billion and now owns 80% of the company. The argument that $165 million in bonuses had to be paid under contractual obligations went down particularly badly with workers of the three U.S. car companies whose leaders appealed for support from the Bush administration last year when the economic crisis gathered steam.

One of the conditions for the billions that were dispensed to the car industry was that contracts between auto workers and their union, the United Auto Workers, had to be renegotiated to cut costs. The union agreed, and the question arises: are contracts with blue-collar workers less binding than those with highly-paid derivatives traders?

Some see this as another sign of the inequalities that Obama promised to address. Remember his famous exchange with Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, during a campaign stop? “I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody,” Obama told him.

There’s less wealth to spread around now as trillions of dollars has evaporated with increasing speed in the deepening crisis. In housing alone, more than $5 trillion has vanished. The gap between rich and poor, a gap of Third World proportions, has not changed. A full-time worker, on average, made $37,606 last year, considerably less than in 1973, adjusted for inflation.

While CEOs made 45 times as much as workers in 1973 they make more than 300 times as much today, according to Holly Sklar, author of “Raise the Floor, Wages and Policies that Work for All of US.”

To what extent those gaps will shrink under Obama remains to be seen and the outlook for swift action is not promising. There are, in fact, not many things for which the outlook is promising. Exceptions include Smith&Wesson. They expect revenue to double within the next three years.

You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com.

263 comments

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Bernd Debusmann states:
Gun sales shot up almost immediately after Barack Obama won the U.S. presidential elections on November 4 and firearm enthusiasts rushed to stores, fearing he would tighten gun controls despite campaign pledges to the contrary.

Obama also said:
5 days of public comment before signing bills
Bills will be on the internet for 48 hours to review
That his father was a goat herder
That he was a Constitutional lawyer
That he was a professor of law
That he will not have lobbyists
That he will not take PAC money
That he will use public funds for his campaign.
That he never heard or witnessed the words that Jeremiah Wright uses.
That is not the Toney Rezko that he knows.
That he only had tea at Bill Ares house
He does not take money from lobbyist.
That his family has strong ties to African Freedom fighters.
A Life Magazine Article Changed his Outlook On Life.
That he won’t run on a national ticket In ‘08.
Present Votes Are Common In Illinois.
That he passed 900 Bills in the State Senate.

But hey, lets take his word on it………………..

Posted by LJ | Report as abusive

It is not that the mood is dark in america, it is because of who is president and the individuals in control of congress. The Constitution will not bother them trying to ban firearm sales in our country. ikeo

Posted by jon buckalew | Report as abusive

You’re absolutely right Greg. Its an unfortunate reason why citizens have to arm themselves but its just fantastic that people are taking in interest in protecting themselves. Since then the FBI has recorded a massive drop in crimes involving a firearm because more law-abiding citizens have guns now. Its just great!

Posted by Shaun | Report as abusive

A cynical person might say Obama made promises not to tighten gun laws because he knew the Democratic congress would do it for him. A realistic person would say a politician will say anything to get elected, including: I will veto any earmarks, I will bring the troops home from Iraq, I will not tighten gun laws.

Posted by Mark D | Report as abusive

would you protect your family when they come to put people in camps?
America and the UK are turning into a police survailence/nanny states.
If I lived in those places I would get a farm and a shot gun to.

Posted by Josh | Report as abusive

Mr. Falvo II says:
“Well, OK, the cash is in your possession, but really, it’s not providing a benefit just sitting in an account. Cash not applied (e.g., not spent on goods or services rendered) is merely potential power, not actual wealth.”

That makes me wonder why I saved for retirement. Maybe I should spend all the money in my retirement account, go bankrupt and sign up for the public dole. Or may I assume that some “accounts” are exempt from this rule?

Posted by Ray | Report as abusive

@Debusman,

Well, what do you expect? Anyone who studies history knows where this senario is going. Those in the populace who bought guns or are planning to are gearing up for conflict. The writing has been on the wall since Bush took office and as long as Obhama is happy to continue his policies what proof do we have that things will get better? None is the answer.

The slaves are thumbing their nose at the masters. They’re fed up with the political double-speak and empty promises. They’re tired of getting the taser for just asking questions. The slaves have had it with inflatinoary taxation and the bleeding dry of our purchasing power. If I were one of the masters I’d start thinking of ways to suck up to the people and giving back everything they’ve stolen from us. But they’re not about to do that, we know. So we’re buying guns and ammo, implementing the option left to us.

Posted by NRB | Report as abusive

Firearms are commonly used in self-defense in the US. This is well-documented and not a matter of nopinion. It normally doesn’t involve actual shooting.
Consider that criminals are brazen and the economic collapse of the US will drive more crime. It makes perfect sense to be armed because it is impossible for police to do more than react to crime. You either fight back and risk injury or surrender and trust your assailant to be nice to you. Democrats, especially AG Holder, prefer criminals (who they see as victims) to their victims (who they don’t identify with until they are mugged) and have always been desperate to disarm Americans who aren’t part of their desired police state.

Posted by Sejano | Report as abusive

There are reasons guns purchases are increasing:

1. Police, in most cases arrive after a crime has been committed, not before or during.

2. The right to own a gun is being threatened. If I knew my purchase of a gun could be easily secured in the future in a legal manner, I wouldn’t rush to buy one today.

3. With a poor economy, crime naturally rises thus more will feel the need to have some personal protection.

Because of these factors above, I personally will be looking for the first time into buying a gun.

Posted by Adam | Report as abusive

The right to bear arms… Should have been the right to bare arms or bear alms… If the founding fathers could see them now they would be horrified. Guys, you beat King george, massacred the indians and now you’re turning on your own… What a poor pathetic country the US is, terrified of its own democracy.

Posted by DD | Report as abusive

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that people are afraid that Obama is going to take away their right to bear arms! My own son plans to buy a gun just in case this happens!

Posted by Rudy | Report as abusive

Dear Michael (the gun control advocate):

There are 14.5x more handgun deaths in the U.S. than Canada & somehow that’s a gun control problem? Do the math: there are 9 times more people in the US than in Canada (300million vs 33 million) & over 3x the guns per capita (.82 vs .25). So if we were comparing “gun for gun” the quantity of handgun deaths in the U.S. vs. Canada should be 9×3 (population & total guns available) i.e. 27 times times the amount of gun deaths in canada. So, gun for gun, 14.5 times more deaths per capita in the U.S. is actually about 40% less than Canada.

Posted by Ryan Washburn | Report as abusive

Guess there’s no research before writing an article other than watching Oprah; typical from most so called journalists today. The tent city in Sacremento was not filled from the ranks of the recently homeless, but the chronically homeless…huge difference.

As for the Guns comment(s) LJ gave an articulate and pointed reference to many things reported that would never happen, but did.

Australia disarmed its’ citizenry and politicians are befuddled at why the crime rate went up??? Americans have some references to many things that were said in recent and not so recent times in other countries lulling the populace to sleep about their rights and protection.

Remember, when seconds count a cop is minutes away…

I’d rather stand on the 2nd Amendment and deal with it myself as would most of my contemporaries…bad guys don’t want anything to do with someone who fights back.

Our idea of gun control is hitting what you aim at!

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

Also, as B Hussein continues his assault on the dollar, it’s been suggested that rifle and pistol cartridges might become America’s unofficial currency. They have intrinsic value (unlike the federal reserve note) and have an actual, real world usefulness.

Gold or silver would be better, but government has a record of harassing those who attempt to coin gold and silver money privately. Can’t stand the competition, I guess.

FACTS: 223 (5.56) AR assault weapon ammo is running 4-6 month wait. If you can find an AR, it’ll be inflated to almost double. Almost any self defense ammo, firearms are almost impossible to find. Shotguns are preferable over handguns for home defense. Owning a firearm no more makes you armed than owning a piano makes you a musician. If you buy one, it is MANDATORY to receive education on both criminal AND civil ramnifications, and proper technique is not an option. Bad guys are very good with guns, you have got to be BETTER, or you’re dead.

Posted by AVI8TR | Report as abusive

I look at owning a gun as I do getting an insurance policy: it’s a lot of money for something that you’ll probably never need anyway. Which is I why I’ve never gotten one. But, I’ve been meaning to. … If I do, I want you all to know that it’s something I’ve been putting off and am just getting around to. I’m not panicked. Really!

An interesting statistic, I wonder what the correlation is with firearm purchases in other times of anxiety and high social stress in this country. In this era of sublimated values and a focus on individuality over a national identity this is a troubling development. We have excellent programs established to inculcate citizens with an inherent fear of civil protest of the violent kind, but even these programs have been shown, historically, to have a point where the law of diminishing returns assumes primacy. That point is far away from now if, and it is a big if, current conditions do not deteriorate. History has shown that a large population of uneducated, indigent, and angry people within any society is a breeding ground for unrest. If the conditions do deteriorate we have two options, the first is to establish a real police state, not to be confused with the police state that some paranoid twits insist exists now for if they had ever seen a real police state, and lived to tell the tale, they would understand the difference. The second would be to begin being honest with ourselves politically and abandon the non-issue focused one-party debate driven system we currently use and embrace a system based on reality. Hopefully we will be allowed to continue being blissfully ignorant and never have to make that hard choice, but we must be prepared to face it should it come to pass.

Posted by Jed | Report as abusive

Bernd Debusmann, author of the above article, represents the media. He has empathy for a subject as if it were paint. Where is his anger? He thinks his job is more important folks. Do the citizens of this country have a right to feel extremely disappointed in our government. Mr. Debusmann, I know that within my circle of friends, the anger has passed. The anxiety is something that must simply be swallowed as we realize that any government capable of creating such a massive economic mess is also blind, and bound to worsen the situation. Consider that our inept government will not consider minimizing it’s own money sucking growth. The life blood of the working stiff is below the level of his tax burden. That federal employees have had the greatest benefit programs, sweetest working conditions and earliest retirement benifits over their private sector counter-parts, yet they are paid by us 10 buck an hour saps who have more fees, taxes, school kid expenses, work licensing fees, God I could go on for pages! I’m thinking: If I have a gun I will be able to protect myself to a greater extent than I can without one. If I have a proper gun I can hunt for food (I live in Oregon). If I have a gun and find myself in a very dangerous situation, I will be better able to negotiate a safe exit. I am quickly becoming convinced that our economy will have a short term benefit from all this tremendous government spending but soon thereafter, as the eye of the storm causes many to lose their anxiety, those trillions will unleash in the form of inflation that will devastate those unaware and unprepared. Just as a sunami follows an earthquake. Since my government will not warn the people of the possible consequences of this largest disaster to come, I can only urge any who read this to buy at least one gun and plenty of ammo. A 22 caliber should only be a second gun. You’ll need something like a hunting rifle too. Google for what you should be looking for. Whatever you do, DO NOT TRUST YOUR GOVERNMENT.

Posted by picomanning | Report as abusive

The lack of jobs are the issue. People told me that the “wise” men of the Private (oh, I mean Federal) reserve were too smart to allow another depression. Well, many think they are not that stupid, thus the reason why all the guns (not just from fear of uncertainty, but of the reality of uncertainty).

The solution is in the creation of jobs and no better place to start is by promoting fits, that is feed in tariffs! Yes, for SOLAR ENERGY! Gainesville has just enacted such and now, jobs are being created just by erecting solar PV! If half of the country put solar on their rooftops, the other half would have a hard time keeping up with needed production. If a whopping 20% of electricity came from such, the rates would only be slightly higher as feed ins would be reduced to just above “normal” utility rates. (No need for arguments here since the jobs and a good economy, not to mention the “green” benefits more than justify the few extra bucks for the electric bill).

Another way to bolster the economy is for nimby’s to “allow” the building of more high powerlines and largescale concentrated solar thermal power. They would put lots of mirrors on the desert and would retain the heat of the focused sunlight almost indefinitely, until used for generation. Hence almost 24/7 power from a not so 24/7 source! A lesser feed in tariff might be needed to promote these jobs too but that’s much better than sinking literally billions into “weatherizing federal buildings” and such.

Germany is the “founder” of modern day successful feed in tariffs. Even though they pay up to FIVE times the normal rate, each’s bill is only about $4 to $5 dollars more per month. This also includes other renewables like wind. SO, if Germany can do it (with constantly cloudy weather), so can we!

From there, the electric future will require the building of electric cars, something that Obama should force any would be recipient provider to build!

Also, we should temporarily eradicate all insurance laws just so people can afford this transition. Thus if Obama was really on our side, he would do just that! Obviously, created goods like mirrors, PV or electric cars (and guns)are FAR more productive than non real things like state law required car insurance, thus in depression times, ALL THE FOCUS should only be upon real goods made in what should still be a real country!

Buy guns for your ignorant reasons and fear. They are four times more likely to be used on a friend or family member. If you don’t get that Darwin has your answer.

Posted by Matt | Report as abusive