The gun crowd has a saying: Guns don’t kill; people do.
But doesn’t that just mean that people shouldn’t have guns?
Call me a wimp, but I’m almost as afraid of guns as I am of anybody dumb enough to smash car windows because the Lakers won the championship (and no, the city should not pay a nickel for the parade, even though witless Mayor Villaraigosa initially offered to cover half the cost for those multimillionaires while preparing layoff notices for working stiffs).
My views on firearms, it turns out, aren’t widely shared. In California and the rest of the nation, gun sales are booming, particularly since President Obama’s election.
In California, 314,201 firearms were sold between November 2008 and May of this year, according to the state attorney general’s office. That’s a 32% increase over sales one year earlier for the same period. And across the country, the number of background checks requested for gun purchases has been way higher each month than in the same month for the previous year.
It’s no wonder that in February, Obama was awarded the “Gun Salesman of the Year” award by Outdoor Wire, an Internet news outlet.
“I think he’s got it locked up for 2009, too,” says Jim Shepherd, Outdoor Wire’s editor.
Last week, I visited gun shop owners in Riverside and Corona to discuss their booming business.
Jerry Wehunt, who along with his wife, Rosemary, runs JW Guns in Riverside, said his customers are panic-buying. They fear the Obama administration will crack down on gun ownership -- although the president hasn’t put forth such a plan. And they worry about a pending state bill that would limit ammo purchases to 50 rounds a month. Business would be even brisker, Wehunt said, except that gun and ammo manufacturers can’t keep up with demand.
“And the economy’s in the toilet,” Wehunt noted.
Still, he has had customers who are “out of work, can’t make the car payment, can’t make the house payment, they’ve been laid off. But how much is that gun?”
He’s seeing lots of first-time buyers, too. “I’m getting teachers who would never buy a gun and didn’t want one in the house,” said Wehunt, who sold a .38-caliber handgun and a shotgun to one teacher who’d never owned a weapon.
If you’re a careful reader, by now you’ve picked up on Jerry’s last name.
Yes, he said, Wehunt is his real name. Yes, he hunts. And I was about the 10 millionth guy to ask.
Wehunt’s 9-year-old granddaughter was in the store with her dog, whose name is, I swear: Shooter.
Wehunt told me the granddaughter wept the morning after Obama was elected because she thought gun owners would have to surrender their weapons.
And there really is a bumper sticker in the store that says, “I Like Animals. . . .They’re Delicious.”
Wehunt said he was a registered Democrat but “Clinton turned me Republican” with an assault weapon ban that was written by Joe Biden.
“I think if you . . . have no warrants, no record, you should be allowed to own any gun you want,” said Wehunt, who saw sales spike after Clinton was elected. But that surge didn’t last nearly as long as this one has.
What’s different now?
“If somebody shoots this guy, there’s gonna be wars in the streets,” Wehunt said, adding that the violence would make the Rodney King rioting look like a picnic in the park, and some people are afraid to get stuck without enough bullets.
Another issue is that some people “don’t know whether he’s Muslim or Christian.”
OK, maybe it was time to move on down the road. I thanked Wehunt for his hospitality and frank talk and headed for a Corona gun shop called -- and once again, no kidding -- Annie’s Get Your Gun.
How could I not buy a T-shirt?
Jerry Fried and his wife, Annie, had plenty of customers in the shop, and while sales are brisk, Annie said she has also been buying back guns from people who need money to pay their bills.
While I was there, no one admitted stockpiling weapons because of Obama’s election. Shoppers were mostly hunters and sport shooters, or people worried about a break-in.
“It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” said Ethan Robinson, who had his eye on a shotgun.
Leif Nelson, a schoolteacher and sport shooter, called himself a liberal except on gun control.
“I think gun ownership is an inalienable right, but so is healthcare,” Nelson said. I’m guessing that’s never going to be a best-selling bumper sticker.
Jerry Fried said he was once an Eastern liberal and a member of Amnesty International and the ACLU, but he became fascinated by guns later in life and dropped those organizations in favor of the NRA.
“There are few things that stand between the people and tyranny,” Fried said. “Once private gun ownership is eliminated, there’s nothing to stop the government from doing what it wants to do.”
But if war broke out between the U.S. government and the Inland Empire, would it be that easy to choose sides?
If I do decide to take up arms, I’d definitely shop at JW or Annie’s. But what about my fear of guns, which I think goes back to watching so many people get filled with lead on the TV show “Mannix” in the 1960s and ‘70s?
Fried said I could overcome that fear with the right education and training. He removed a .40-caliber Sig Sauer pistol from a display case and showed me how to properly hold it.
Yo, Travis Bickle, “you talkin’ to me?”
“It’s the Mercedes-Benz of combat pistols,” Fried said. “Like having a luxury car in your hands.”
Yeah, but I still don’t know if I’m up for the ride.
Then again, if there are people in this country unstable enough to think Obama might lead a jihad, shouldn’t I be prepared to protect myself from them?