Click here to view in a gallery.
MISHAWAKA -- Black Friday came early at Midwest Gun Exchange.
At 1:45 p.m. last Friday, 15 minutes before the doors to Midwest's new store opened, the store's parking lot was almost full. Cars streamed in. A line was formed in front of the doors as a light mist fell. By 2 p.m. there were at least two dozen people waiting to be the first ones in.
The scene wasn't surprising. Local gun store owners have seen gun sales jump recently in the Elkhart County area.
In the last few weeks, gun owners -- first-time buyers and long-time buyers -- have been loading up on guns and ammunition.
Store owners said a number of factors have incited the rush, including the presidential election and poor economy.
Lately owner Steve Evans is used to seeing people waiting outside the door of Granger Guns at 10 a.m. and he often stays past closing time to fill orders. He's even brought on extra help to keep things running.
"It is just nuts," he said.
Evans said the election of President-elect Barack Obama has many gun owners worried that legislation or taxes will be passed making weapons and ammunition they want either illegal or unaffordable. Evans said the last time the store was so busy was for two weeks shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Business for Evans was up about 20 percent before the election and he said it's gone up 10 times since then.
Brad Rupert, retail manager for Midwest's Mishawaka and Elkhart locations, said business at the stores has risen 50 percent and 30 percent respectively, which he also attributed to the election. About 50 percent of Mishawaka's weekend customers were new.
T.J. Repaich, manager of Midwest Gun and Range in Elkhart, said the store saw a spike in sales before the presidential election. Since then there's been a steady flow of business. Repaich and Evans said it's not a feeding frenzy -- people aren't lining shopping carts with barettas and sigs. But people that were on the fence about buying a gun aren't waiting anymore.
Repaich agreed that the election has contributed to the rise in sales but said it shouldn't be singled out. Many customers are worried about a rise in thefts because of the faltering economy and are looking for a gun to use for home protection. The election, the economy, the start of firearms hunting season and the holidays are all creating a perfect storm for gun sales, he said.
Repaich said a $50 handgun class is available for people purchasing a handgun that have never owned one before. The six-hour class is offered by National Rifle Association-certified instructors and Repaich said it covers everything gun owners need to know. Repaich isn't worried that the poor economy may dissuade some from paying for the class; the $50 is a modest supplement to a $500 handgun, he said.
The concern among patrons shopping at Midwest's Mishawaka store Friday varied.
Corey Cox, 22, came from Angola to visit the store. A full-time college student and reserve officer with the Angola Police Department, Cox is a self-described gun enthusiast. He owns 15 weapons-handguns, rifles and shotguns-and is building some AR-15 rifles.
Cox is worried about potential legislation Obama could pass and has recently been purchasing high-capacity magazines for his rifles.
"You can always just sell them off later," he said.
Jason Perry, 22, lives in Niles and works at AM General. Perry has been into hunting for the last five years, owns several rifles, shotguns and handguns, but isn't worried about what Obama may do. Perry doesn't think any firearms laws will be passed overnight, and he doesn't plan to buy anything on a whim in the meantime.
Also browsing at Midwest was Rick Schmidt, 39, a local brewmaster.
Schmidt owns 10 or so guns that he uses for target shooting, as well as a rifle. An NRA member, Schmidt has friends in Texas that have gone out to buy 30-round magazines for weapons since the elections. Schmidt, however, thinks some people are overreacting. The only thing he planned to purchase at Midwest Friday was a pocket knife.
Schmidt doesn't want to see any legislation passed that will limit a person's ability to legally buy a gun. At the same time there's a lot of ambiguity over what Obama's position on firearms will be as president, meaning a lot of the worry is unwarranted, he said.
Schmidt winced at the prospect of the economy prompting more people to buy firearms for home protection. For Schmidt, home protection consists of a security system, a big dog and the police before a gun is brought into the picture.
Ultimately a gun is one of several resources homeowners can use for protection, he said.
No one knows for sure how long gun sales will escalate. Repaich doesn't think sales will falter, at least not until Obama makes his plans concerning firearms known. Evans said he expected sales to start to plateau as gun owners begin to feel they have what they need.
"But it hasn't started yet," he said.
OBAMA BACKS TIGHTER LAWS, BUT NOT HUGE TAXES ON GUNS AND AMMO
Not much was mentioned about President-elect Obama's future plans for gun legislation during the presidential campaign, which has some worried about whether any anti-gun legislation or taxes are passed.
In September, the Washington Post examined a National Rifle Association ad that claimed Obama was in support of a 500 percent tax on weapons he said were commonly used in firearm deaths. The claim stemmed from a Dec. 13, 1999, article of the Chicago Defender.
The Post acknowledged Obama favors tighter gun laws but said it was a stretch to argue he wants to tax guns and ammunition as a president based on the 9-year-old Defender article.