Happy days are here again for the makers and sellers of guns and ammunition, and why not? There's nothing like a good school massacre to really move those Mausers off the shelves. The timing of the Newtown, Conn., atrocity, moreover, couldn't have been better, coming as it did just two weeks before Christmas, when gun enthusiasts slumber with visions of high-capacity magazines dancing in their heads.
Gun and ammunition sales tend to leap in the wake of high-profile mass shootings. National elections can have the same effect; the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president prompted a run on firearms and bullets that caused prices to skyrocket.
A report by Times staff writer Kate Mather shows that the slaughter of 20 children and six adults at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School in December may be having the same predictable effect, and then some. The number of federal background checks on firearm purchasers was higher in December than in any month since the checks were required in 1998, according to the FBI. Businesses and trade associations are reporting a jump in sales, and Mather found commerce so brisk at the Crossroads of the West gun show in Ontario that people were waiting in line four hours just to enter Sunday.
The reason for all this gun mania, of course, is fear — not fear of victimization, but fear that the government will impose limits on gun ownership. President Obama is the focus of this fear, as he has been since 2008, despite the fact that he has neither proposed nor signed anti-gun legislation. "I'll tell you right now, Obama is the No. 1 gun salesman in the nation," a gun shopper named Ryan Girard told Mather. Obama is indeed talking tougher on guns than he has in the past, though some experts are skeptical that he will have the political will or ability to impose limits with teeth. Congress, meanwhile, is dusting off old bills to reinstate an expired federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (a movement with notably more enthusiasm among Democrats than Republicans). Such weapons are already banned in California.
In fact, there is almost zero chance that the federal government will adopt restrictions tougher than what California already has on the books, making the reaction in Ontario a little puzzling. That doesn't render Washington's efforts worthless — California has the strictest gun laws of any state, and the country would be safer if such limits were imposed nationwide. Meanwhile, some California lawmakers are proposing state bills that would impose even stricter rules here.
To gun owners and prospective buyers, we can only say: Don't panic. Any legislative changes will be, for the vast majority of law-abiding gun owners, unnoticeable. Obama's not going to break into your house wearing a ski mask and take your guns away.