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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You are stupid. Americans buy guns strictly out of fear. Period. It has nothing to do with the economy or anything else. Also these tent cities do not exist, they’re a fabrication of the media. Quit telling lies.

Posted by Jeff | Report as abusive

If fire-arms are openly circulating in your country or region then the best way to react such dislocation is to leave your region or country if you can, and settle in a physically less dangerous one.

Posted by Gunnar | Report as abusive

I am going to assume that all the people discussing whether or not you are defending property or self have never been attacked before, because in a severe situation, there is no time to decide whether someone ‘Just wants that credenza Granny gave you’, or is going to beat, rape, rob and murder you or yours (this is why you/we are such easy succulent prey). Everything happens so fast, that minute distinctions between ‘real’ or ‘perceived’ threat collapse and you are in instinctive free fall.

In the second situation (BRRM), if you don’t act first, you won’t get a second chance (there is no time to PONDER criminal intent). Still, whether you own a gun or not, some people will never be hard wired to take a life, you could arm them to the teeth, but taking life is not what their life is about (no matter the personal danger). You have the classic ‘freeze’ moment, allowing the criminal to proceed in their chosen fashion. The only way to beat this ‘freeze’ moment out of people is hard physical training, desensitization and repetition. So…if you bought a gun ‘for protection’ I can only hope that you are training your mind as well…otherwise it is a worthless expenditure, that you will not control or utilize in the time of need (in fact you may be a danger to family and loved ones).

I have to admit a fair amount of curiosity about the people who think that in a time of political upheaval or unrest they could ‘hunt for food’. Have you any idea what food supply JIT (just-in-time) inventory is about? In a situation that was a large civil disturbance/unrest 300 million Americans may find themselves without food because of JIT. The only large mammal that North America has in enough abundance to feed anyone for any length of time is humans…?…admittedly, rather gross in concept.

I also have to wonder if you ‘gun and farm’ people understand the anthropological rise of the city/state in human history. The ONLY thing that makes farming viable, IN ANY WAY, is the rise of the city/state. In periods of civil unrest, there is no city/state to protect you (the farmer)…and a few puny guns or even large guns would not protect you from the waves and masses of humanity that would come to rob steal and destroy EVERYTHING in its path to feed and shelter itself. Better to be part of a large gang of well armed nomads who can roam and pick off the weak, struggling and outgunned.

Taking a lesson from Wall Street, ‘You can justify ANY action, afterward, that allows you to survive today. In the triumph, lies the history’.

All criminal acts are the mirror acts of our leaders. If you study the action and morals of our leaders you will find them mirrored in the general populace to an incredible degree.

When our leaders are just, courageous, and exhibit moral character, the country citizens reflects these values back to them (like Pavlov’s dogs, it is an automatic response, you can no more control this, than the rain). Guns are no more a factor in social violence than cabbages or shoe horns. When our leaders are cowards, liars, cheats, torturers, renderers you will see this mirrored in the actions of the citizens too (THAT is the difference between the U.S. and other countries in terms of violent citizen behaviors).

Really, though, what did you expect from a country FOUNDED by common criminals, from the beginning we took the moral low road and we are on it still!

I too, fear for our country and the few brave and good who still inhabit our shores.

Posted by Kiki | Report as abusive

During the great depression/ dust bowl many people left the farms and migrated to the cities. For example many were turned away at the border in the mass migration to California.
Now things are very very different, for a couple reasons
1. Most people live in the big cities.
2. Most people who live in the big cities couldn’t farm if their lives depended on it, and it very well may…
3.Gangs will most likely cause very high crime rates, in said cities..
4.People stuck living in the cities may be treated just as well as the refugees from Katrina..(locked down welfare state, sounds like fun right?)
5.Most of the voters in the big cities voted for Obama..
I believe they will be treated accordingly.People that live in rural America, have been pushed and treated like crap by politicians,wall street and bankers for years and have very long memories.
6.And did I mention… That rural Americans own 90% of the firearms and knows how to use them…
7.You think this can’t happen in America? The U.N just stated that the world needs to find another reserve currency instead of the U.S. Dollar…
We do live in interesting times..

Posted by John Doe | Report as abusive

CLING TO ‘EM!

Posted by john | Report as abusive

I am currently living in New Hampshire, where I moved as a result of the Free State Project (http://freestateproject.org). I have advice for gun owners who are lucky enough (or smart enough) to live in a state, like New Hampshire, that allows Open Carry — carry openly.

This is important for several reasons:

1) Most people who do not own guns only see them when something is wrong. If they run a store, they have people with guns going in and out — all day, every day. But they never know there are guns in their store until somebody sticks one in their face — either a cop harassing them, or a criminal robbing them. So they learn that guns mean trouble. If they are able to *see* the guns carried by the people with whom they have friendly conversations every day, it will help them to become comfortable with the fact that when such people are in their store they are safer then when they are not.

2) Politicians need to be reminded that in America, the people are sovereign. Americans do not exist to serve the State. The state exists to protect our rights. As Jefferson declared, should government fail to perform *it’s* duty, we shall be required to perform ours, and to alter or abolish the form of that government. These words sound shocking, I know, but they have been in the Declaration of Independence for centuries. They’re just not stressed in government schools.

3) An armed individual, carrying openly, may well save lives and never know it. How many people have rethought robbing a store because they saw me walking in with a .357 on my hip? I don’t know. I never will. It could be none, it could be a dozen. But people *will* think twice about committing a crime within sight of an armed, non-criminal, adult. Any criminals that don’t would be well advised to rethink their career path.

All we need is to have a hand gun that ONLY fires from the REGISTERED OWNERS hand. SIMPLE.
1 Prevents accidents; little kids at home can’t fire it when they find it and play with it.
2 Reduces risk; You can’t have it used against you in a fight if it gets taken from you.
3 If stolen, it is worthless bc it won’t fire without registered owner.

Gun manufacturers need to be FORCED to impliment simple technology to make guns safer and less of a target for theives, ESPECIALLY because gun manufacturerres are not held liable for their use. This would be too logical.

Posted by Mark Jepson | Report as abusive

It is the common role of the Intelligencia to rationalize the cruelties of society. They sit atop their make-believe world where everything is OK, looking down from their elevated position and blissfully chuckle at the guy who gets carried off by the KGB, Gestapo, FBI, etc. But they don’t laugh when it happens to them.

It only takes a small percentage of the population to push back state aggression. This is the armed citizenry in case any of you were wondering. And while it may be true that mobs will come after the home garden all it takes is a handfull of armed neighbors banding together to convince them they should prey somewhere else.

As to the fate of the high-bred elite, laying comfortably in bed with the sheets pulled over, they deserve only what they contribute to society… nothing.

Posted by NRB | Report as abusive

I have always found it amazing about the liberals in this country and their bloodlust to take away the gun. When I was 17 they had no problem putting my butt in the military and giving me an automatic weapon and teach me how to use grenades, claymores and LAW rockets, but now that I am older and hopefully a little more mature,I am not responcible enough to own a handgun or semi-auto weapon. They are the ones that need to be banned, not the guns! I intend to keep my guns, even though I no longer hunt and haven’t for years. They are the only thing standing between free america and a police state. Our politicians have become so arrogant now, they think they can cheat us at will and we will take it. I think the time is coming fast that amercians are going to tell them enough is enough and that is why they want our guns, so that we will be defensless to protect our families when they have stolen the rest of what is left of our money and decide to stop them. I think Obama has gotten a wakeup call since the election, when america began arming itself.He has done more for gun sales in this country than the NRA could have ever accomplished.

Technology that restricts the use of the handgun to only the registered user was tried back in the ’90s and it failed horribly. Cops, for one, complained that the electronics in the grip that read the handprint didn’t always reckognize the user’s hand and so would lock the gun. Imagine you’re a cop who draws only to find your gun won’t work because the chip inside can’t read your hand.

Now imagine your house has just been broken into and Dad is laying dead on the floor because the burgler has just shot him. You reach for Dad’s gun to shoot the burgler but it suddenly locks because you’re not Dad. Then the burgler shoots you.

Bad idea.

Posted by NRB | Report as abusive

“March 20th, 2009 4:24 am GMT – Posted by Mark Jepson

All we need is to have a hand gun that ONLY fires from the REGISTERED OWNERS hand. SIMPLE.
1 Prevents accidents; little kids at home can’t fire it when they find it and play with it.
2 Reduces risk; You can’t have it used against you in a fight if it gets taken from you.
3 If stolen, it is worthless bc it won’t fire without registered owner.

Gun manufacturers need to be FORCED to impliment simple technology to make guns safer and less of a target for theives, ESPECIALLY because gun manufacturerres are not held liable for their use. This would be too logical.”

With regards to the above comment.Why does everyone seem to know what we need?????
consider the following a criminal infiltrates a home. The owner of a registered biometric firearm tries to defend his/her family. Loses the gun fight and is killed.
a family member tries to grap the biometric weapon to continue to fight to save their children, the gun does not fire because some idiot designed it that way. Do we really need this???? Do you think a criminal will not obtain a gun that does not have this technology??? do you think that if every gun had this technology that the criminal would not disable it or use a knife or other weapon???
Now you said registered????? why does the government need to know you have a gun???? when this government turns totaritarian, don’t you think some officials will come to your door asking for your gun because you the registered owner is on their list????? HOw are you the civilian militia going to fight and take back your country?
People in this country have become way to passive and concerned with themselves short term gain, that they are allowing our politicians to do what ever they want. In other nations people hold rallies and protests on a regular basis, here these days everyone has forgotten how. And it will lead to a sad end you will see. If nothing is done now, and when everyone finally wakes up, it will take another civil war to restore our liberties.
Its like the fat dog lying on a nail, “it does not hurt bad enough to move”.

Posted by max headroom | Report as abusive

Matt has posted this based upon one of the biased studies promoted in the press, “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.” This comes from the study that shocks us with statistics about how many children are killed by their families guns.

Details of the study, however, show that the definition of a child is “up to 25 years of age” and the sample population was a West Coast, inner city area, dominated by latino gangs. Not exactly the typical American scenario except for the unfortunate few who are born into or econommically trapped into living there!

So many of these stats and studies are slanted! Any innocent death is tragic, but propaganda does not serve us well. The truth for many of us is that the police can’t get to us in a timely manner when we really need them, and more innocent kids die in swimming pool accidents that from home gun accidents. Ban swimming pools!

Quote: “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.”
*sigh. Are you Americans so entirely racist, fearful of a “black man” (remember kids…his mother was white) in the White House that you think the world has gone crazy? Thank your belief in the fear monger Bush, with his supposed ‘War on Terror’. All I saw was terror for eight years. It started on approx the 1st day of Bush Jr’s tenure as Pres. God Bless a new America in 2009 with a better president, Barack Obama!

Posted by Leishtek | Report as abusive

Matt,

I’m not sure if you just pulled that number out of the air or read it on a liberal, anti-gun website but you’re so off the mark it looks like you’re driving blind…

Riddle me this Batman:

Why is it that the city with the strongest gun control law in the nation had the highest crime rate for many years (D.C.)?

Why is it that Australia’s crime rate is going up since they disarmed the citizens? (Their politicians are still confused on that one, duh?)

Why is the crime rate lower where citizens arm themselves in this country?

Sure, people do stupid and evil things. A lady ran over her cheating husband with a Mercedes. Should we enact anti-Mercedes laws?

You’re right, Darwin did have one correct observation: survival of the fittest (or strongest).

Guess you don’t get out much bud, but quick news flash: The bad guys don’t play nice and they don’t play fair.

One day you’re going to be in a situation where you need to protect yourself or a loved one and your little cell phone won’t help you when you go crying to Daddy government or Mommy police “Help me, help me :(

Quick history lesson: The Japanese didn’t invade the US mainland because their military leader attended Harvard here and new we were armed as a populace. Simply being willing, and able, will diffuse most situations.

You should read the “Art of War” by SunTzu and get your head out of the sand.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

The gun debate is a sideline here, a teaser to get you in, a nice stinger at the end. This ISN’T about the gun debate, it’s about OUR frustration with the current social climate we find ourselves in. Big money going to wall street, while joe the plumber can’t get work. Obama’s not fulfilling his campaign promises. Politics, it seems, has caught up with most of america in being color blind. What I find most interesting, and actually kind of sad, is this:

“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.”

The question is, Why?

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

Hey Leishtek,

“Are you Americans so entirely racist, fearful of a “black man””

You don’t get it. It has *absolutely* nothing to do with the color of his skin. It has *everything* to do with his policies and [warped] understanding of the US Constitution and freedom.

That man, throughout his very short career, has proposed laws that would prohibit law-abiding United States citizens from defending themselves and their families with the most effective tool, the firearm. Gun bans do not reduce crime as criminals do not obey the law. Gun bans actually increase crime because the law-abiding citizens have been disarmed by their government.

The Obamanation administration since ceasing control of the government has already publicly stated its intention to ban many guns, manyof which are the most popular…semi-automatic rifles and pistols.

Think I’m wrong? Tell me, how many people have you seen that have publicly stated they are buying firearms because the president has dark skin?

Beuller? Beuller? Beuller?

Posted by Guns Save Lives | Report as abusive

You are mistaken if you think I purchased my guns to defend myself against my fellow citizens. No, I bought them for fear of what my government might do. To quote Thomas Jefferson: “No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The stongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against the tyranny in government”

Posted by Tim McClure | Report as abusive

Maybe it’s redundant to say it but I think the reason why there was an increase in the volume of purchased weapons is because one side (white) is thinking the other side (black) will take over or start riots like the ones in L.A. in 1989. In a way, they might be right: Imagine when a country that goes broke can’t afford to keep providing social assistance because it has to use funds ( those which are left) to maintain highly sensitive facilities like nuclear powerplants and nuclear arms facilities, maintain a basic infrastructure for the army, protect food and water supplies (for the army), etc. The part of the population (white and black) dependent on assistance will be the first to raise hell. What will happen then to the rest of citizens left to themselves? Will the government be able to hire more Blackwater security forces to assist the Police and National Guard? Perhaps in places, but not most.

Let’s be realistic: if there is but an unfounded gossip that gas will run out in a town somewhere, the public will stupidly go and get as much gas as possible, even though the country hasn’t had to deal with genuine gas shortages or the inability to pay for gas, unlike many other countries.
If the rumor started that pigs feet would run out because of a crisis in supply, the public, who doesn’t buy pigs feet all that much, would run to the store crazed and clear the shelves of pigs feet the very same day of the anouncement in the news. I said pigs feet, I can say rice. Didn’t the demand for rice suddenly increase when news of a worldwide production shortage hit the news sometime last year or so? The fear of a shortage of any kind in this wealthy country that never runs out of anything is enough to start a riot.

Ok, we’re going a little off-the-wall here but it’s safe to say that never before has the security of the United States of America been so deeply compromised by the failure to control corruption at the top level. If it’s true some little corruption can’t be avoided, it’s also true that allowing it to fester brings down whole nations.
A successful foreign military attack is highly unlikely against the United States; the way to hit it is to let corruption do its work with the banking system that feeds, clothes and shelters its citizens by providing them unbridled credit and by letting corporate greed cut down on their ability to earn an independent living by outsourcing jobs while maintaining the same wages for three decades… and let social tensions do the rest to eat it up from within.
I apologize profusely for the pessimism this morning. There is hope, of course: life goes on as usual.

Posted by Van | Report as abusive

Leishtek, I think you miss the point. It’s not a racist issue that people are going out to buy guns. Where in the woods do you live. They are buying guns to ensure their safety in the event they need to do so, as Obama is planning on curtailing their rights to own guns. How can you call a populace that voted him in, racist? The stage may have been set for Obama to come in and fail, but rest assured, he will fail. His economic policies are going to destroy the way the west has lived for the past 75 years, and people just want to protect themselves when their neighbors start trying to take what is not theirs when the hard times really hit.

Posted by Ron | Report as abusive

Where is Robispierre? I’m sure some charismatic, but calm, upstanding nut ball having a, seemingly, benign exterior with a political following is dusting off the image as I write. We’ve likely seen, read, or heard him on the news at some point, he just hasn’t come fully out of the closet yet.

Posted by Dirk | Report as abusive