By Peter Boyer
If the apocalypse were at hand, one sign might be a burst of activity at Dunkelberger’s, a sports outfitting establishment in Stroudsburg, Pa.
Dunkelberger’s, like other purveyors of guns and shooting gear across the country, has experienced a boom in business this autumn the like of which Tim Strunk, a store employee for 23 years, has never before seen.
“It is through the roof, absolutely,” he says. “Assault rifle-style guns, the black guns, are doing especially well.”
Strunk attributes the buying spree partly to a “feeling that the end of the world is coming,” a foreboding perhaps reflecting end-times predictions from the Mayan calendar, among other sources. “The Doomsdayers are stocking up,” Strunk says.
But the greater cause of anxiety, he adds, “is the presidential election, and the fear that gun regulations will be changed” by a second-term Barack Obama.
To many gun-rights activists, those two phenomena – Obama’s re-election, and the apocalypse – amount to the same thing. “Obama is coming right at us,” warned David Keene, president of the National Rifle Association, soon after the election. “This will be an all-out assault on the Second Amendment.”
Obama’s personal disposition on the matter of guns was revealed in his famous “bitter clingers” remark during the 2008 campaign. Less remarked upon was his assertion just a few weeks ago during the second presidential debate that, if re-elected, he hoped to “get an assault weapons ban reintroduced.”
The common wisdom in Washington insists that gun owners’ fears are unwarranted – Obama pushed no gun control agenda during his first term, and the political arithmetic suggests any such effort in a second term would be doomed. An indication of the political toxicity of gun control was suggested by Newsweek reporter Daniel Klaidman in his 2012 book about Obama, “Kill or Capture.” After Attorney General Eric Holder said publicly that Obama meant to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons (which expired in 2004), Klaidman reported, Rahm Emanuel, then Obama’s chief of staff, conveyed the message that Holder should “shut the f— up.”
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, of California, the author of the original ban, would plainly like to see it reinstated; but she failed to introduce any such legislation in the current congressional session, and has not publicly indicated an intention to do so in the next. Given congressional Democrats’ apparent lack of appetite for the issue (even after the Gabby Giffords and Colorado theater shootings), a push for new gun control legislation does not seem likely any time soon.
Some gun-control reformers see a too-violent society, and imagine the American gun owner – Obama’s embittered clinger — as culprit. The reality is starkly different. At Dunkelberger’s, Tim Strunk has noticed something unexpected about the customers rushing to buy guns, many of them first-timers. “There are a lot of young people,” he says. “And women.”
Strunk’s observation reflects the striking demographic findings of a 2011 Gallup poll that showed a stark increase in the number of women reporting household gun ownership – 43 percent, the highest ever recorded by Gallup, and an increase of seven points since 2008.
This data seems to track with a shift in the rationale for gun ownership, both in the public argument for guns and at the consumer level, from sporting purposes to self-defense. In Texas, the fastest-growing demographic segment of citizens seeking concealed-carry gun permits is black women.
Joshunda V. Sanders, an Austin-based journalist, has not only written about that trend, but has become part of it. Sanders was reared in tough neighborhoods of the Bronx in the 1980s, at the height of the crack epidemic, and went to Vassar on a scholarship. Neither experience inspired an interest in gun ownership. “My understanding of guns was 50 percent pop culture, gangsta rap-related,” she says, “and 50 percent like, ‘Oh, I’m pretty sure that drug dealer down on the corner has a gun.”’
After college, Sanders’ first job took her to east Texas, where, as a displaced city girl driving the country roads in an alien place, she began to feel vulnerable. Despite her formidable bearing – Sanders is 6 feet tall – she says she realized that “I might not be welcome in some of the places I might stop.”
When Sanders decided to buy a gun, and to obtain a concealed-carry permit, her girlfriends were appalled. Some considered the presence of a gun in her home more dangerous than any threat it might deter. Others suggested that becoming a gun-toting female would impair her romantic life. “There was basically the sense that I was giving up on all hope of being a woman by getting a gun,” she says. “It was like, ‘Okay, so, you’re already frightening and intimidating, you’re gonna get a gun, now?”
But when she began the permit process, Sanders says, she remembered a childhood scene from her youth in the Bronx, when she and her mother were accosted by a gunman who robbed them of their bus fare, and her mother’s faux fur coat. She resolved to press on, and obtained her Texas carry permit – though she has not yet taken the final step of actually acquiring a weapon. (“I’m stalling,” she says. “Some of it is economic. But some of it is sort of emotional. Do I want to be the person who tests the Castle Doctrine” – the legal doctrine justifying lethal force in defense of one’s home – “as it relates to black women?”)
Most states do not keep specific demographic data on gun-permit applicants, but anecdotal evidence suggests that Texas is not an anomaly. Carrie Lightfoot is a shooting instructor in Scottsdale, Ariz., and operates an online business geared to the growing female gun market (thewellarmedwoman.com). Among the items sold on her site are bra holsters and concealed-carry purses.
Next spring, Lightfoot says, she will begin teaching a course to train women to become shooting instructors.
‘‘We’re raised differently from men,” she says. “Women think, ‘Is that thing going to go off at the table?’ Women had to make their way through the jargon and testosterone in the gun culture. They process it all in a very different way from men. For men, it’s “Boom,’ the power of it. For women, it’s more, ‘Well, men can’t protect us anymore, and this is an option.”
But Lightfoot adds that, increasingly, some women are buying guns for the same reason that motivates many men. “I think there is some valid concern, long term, about the right to gun ownership,’’ she says, citing the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which found the right of individuals to own firearms. “That was decided by one vote on the Supreme Court. That is scary. And people should be scared.”
Peter Boyer is a Fox News At-Large Editor.