Why is fear stalking the land? Why in the wake of tragic shootings across the country are Americans buying guns and ammunition at record rates?

Could it be that with the President’s re-election, as taxes and government spending spiral out of control, as an unpopular Congress dithers, as entertainment featuring apocalypse surges in popularity, and as the latest failed doomsday prediction is replaced by yet another, many Americans have been gripped with an uneasiness that each of us is on our own?

A gun dealer displays his wares

“Fears of crime, a potential crackdown on gun owners, a social collapse and even zombies have Americans loading up as never before,” writes Kim Peterson for MSN Money. But why? “One widely held belief is that President Barack Obama’s election spurred fears that he will crack down on gun ownership. But there’s more to it than that. People are buying more guns now for security, particularly as the economy has struggled. More Americans are getting permits to carry concealed weapons. Sport shooting is seeing newfound popularity. And you never know when economic doomsday will hit or, yes, even when zombies will attack.”

“Gun sales in Florida have surged since last week’s mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults,” writes Dan Sullivan for the Tampa Bay Times. “Statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that requests for background checks on the state’s new gun buyers began to rise on the day of the shooting.

“At least one local gun shop owner said buyers are particularly seeking assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, which were used by the shooter in the Connecticut tragedy, and are likely to become the target of gun control proposals.”

Nationwide indicators suggest that the boom is not unique to Florida. The Wall Street Journal reported gun stock prices were up in the shooting’s immediate aftermath. The Washington Post reported that prices for handgun magazines were increasing on eBay and semiautomatic rifles were selling out at Wal-mart stores.

Sullivan reported the Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, racked up more than $1 million in sales on one day for the best single-day performance since the store opened in 1959, according to Justin Anderson, director of online sales. Topping the list was the Bushmaster AR-15, the model used at Newtown that sells for as much as $4,000 and had almost sold out, Anderson said. He noted that revenue at the shop, one of the largest U.S. gun stores, surpassed even the spike just after Obama was elected president in 2008.

Speculation over stricter gun laws will continue to boost sales, Anderson told Sullivan. “It’s kind of the perfect storm for the gun industry,” he said. “When these things happen, even though it’s sad, it does pick up sales.”

But why are people so afraid? “In the age of 9/11, the Iraq War, financial collapse, and Amber Alerts, our society is defined by fear,” writes author Barry Glassner in The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things: Crime, Drugs, Minorities, Teen Moms, Killer Kids, Mutant Microbes, Plane Crashes, Road Rage, & So Much More. “So it’s not surprising that three out of four Americans

say they feel more fearful today then they did twenty years ago. But are we living in exceptionally dangerous times?

Barry Glassner

Glassner says it is our perception of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. He blames people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears, including advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism.

But hardly a month goes by without reports of another school shooting. So, it’s hardly surprising that in Ohio, more than 650 teachers and school administrators have signed up for a free program to train teachers and school administrators on how to use firearms, reports WHIO News.

The Buckeye Firearms Foundation offered the Armed Teacher Training Program following the Connecticut shooting. Ohio law allows school staff members to carry firearms as long as the school board approves it.

So does California.

Armed guards watch students arriving at school

“The Golden State allows schools to employ armed guards if they choose,” writes Larry Sand in City Journal. He is a retired teacher and president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. “When I was a middle school teacher in Los Angeles from 1994 until 2009, we had an armed cop on campus just about every day. My school was hardly unique. State law has long allowed for an armed presence on any school campus ‘as needed.’”

And school guards are effective, he writes: “Though ignored by most of the media, some mass school shootings have been stopped because an authority figure with access to a firearm intervened. In 1997, at Pearl High School in Mississippi, 16-year-old Luke Woodham shot nine students and staff, killing two, before Joel Myrick, the school’s assistant principal, confronted and subdued him with a pistol he retrieved from his truck.

"In 2001, senior Jason Hoffman opened fire on the attendance office of Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, California. Hoffman wounded five people before being shot and incapacitated by an armed school cop.

"Even the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, horrible as they were, could have been even worse but for the intervention of Neil Gardner, an armed Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy having lunch on campus at the time. Gardner exchanged fire with one of the shooters and summoned help, giving several students a chance to escape.”

Do Americans fear that guns will become hard to buy?

New York City dad of two boys and attorney Edward Paltzik believes the threat to his young family is real – and that disarming the public isn’t the solution in an increasingly violent world.

“The failure of the United Kingdom’s gun control program was recently displayed during the 2011 London riots when unarmed shopkeepers and homeowners were forced to watch marauding gangs of powerful young men loot and destroy while overwhelmed police failed to contain the raging throng,” he writes. “Closer to home, our broken neighbor Mexico is a failed state in which drug cartels kill government officials with impunity, where beheaded and bullet-ridden corpses litter highways and respectable citizens cower in fear. Mexico has among the strictest gun control laws in the world.”

“Back in the United States, Chicago, subject to some of the most stringent gun control in the nation, observed a timely milestone this week” – its 500th murder of the year, noted Paltzik. “As Chicago demonstrates, gun control is an abject failure precisely because it only affects the good guys who need guns to defend against attacks by criminals who have access to guns regardless of gun control laws.”

In the spirit of the bumper sticker “When guns are outlawed, only the outlaws will have any guns” he notes it was armed good guys who put a stop to a number of would-be massacres.

Just the week after the Connecticut school shootings, a lone San Antonio, Texas, gunman opened fire at a police car and bystanders from a nearby Chinese restaurant. But as he entered the Mayan Palace Movie Theater with both guns blazing, an armed off-duty cop shot Garcia four times, stopping the attack. As a result – no victims’ deaths.

“By contrast, the shootings in gun-free zones invariably result in far higher casualty figures,” notes columnist Ann Coulter. She says gun bans just don’t work – and didn’t stop the bloodshed in attacks on “gun free” sites such as the “Sikh temple, Oak Creek, Wisconsin (six dead); Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia (32 dead); Columbine High School, Columbine, Colorado (12 dead); Amish school, Lancaster County,

Pennsylvania (five little girls killed); public school, Craighead County, Arkansas (five killed).”

The killers stalking the Columbine High School cafeteria

Compare those, says Coulter to thwarted massacres in which the shooter was stopped by an armed member of the crowd. “Winnemucca, Nevada, 2008: Ernesto Villagomez opens fire in a crowded restaurant; a concealed carry permit-holder shoots him dead. Total dead: Two.

“Appalachian School of Law, 2002: Crazed immigrant shoots the dean and a professor, then begins shooting students; as he goes for more ammunition, two armed students point their guns at him, allowing a third to tackle him. Total dead: Three.

“Santee, California, 2001: Student begins shooting his classmates; an off-duty cop who happened to be bringing his daughter to school that day points his gun at the shooter, holding him until more police arrive. Total dead: Two.

“Edinboro, Pennsylvania, 1998: A student shoots up a junior high school dance being held at a restaurant; restaurant owner pulls out his shotgun and stops the gunman. Total dead: One.”

“If what we care about,” continues Coulter, “is saving the lives of innocent human beings by reducing the number of mass public shootings and the deaths they cause, only one policy has ever been shown to work: concealed-carry laws.”

But aren’t guns the enemy? That was the lesson New York’s Westchester Journal News attempted to convey December 22 when it published the names and addresses of gun owners in its community complete with an interactive map on its website showing who owned legally-registered guns. The story prompted a bitter backlash by local gun advocates, who took to the Internet to publish the names and home addresses of the newspaper’s staff.

A screenshot of the Westchester interactive map

In response, on December 28, the newspaper brought in armed guards to stand outside its offices – apparently missing the irony of first lamenting the existence of legal gun owners, then taking refuge behind the same.

Are we foolish to live in fear? No, vigilance is wise, advises Stanislav Mishin in the Russian news outlet Pravda (formerly the official press of the USSR). “Americans, never give up your guns,” he wrote shortly after the Connecticut shootings. “One of the first things [the Soviets] did was to disarm the population,” he noted. “From that point, mass repression, mass arrests, mass deportations, mass murder and mass starvation were all a safe game” for the government.

Even today, the Russian government is not to be trusted, he warned: “While President Putin pushes through reforms, the local authorities, especially in our vast hinterland, do not feel they need to act like they work for the people. They do as they please, a tyrannical class who knows they have absolutely nothing to fear from a relatively unarmed

population. This in turn breeds not respect but absolute contempt and often enough, criminal abuse.”

John Whitehead

Civil rights lawyer John Whitehead, writing in the liberal Huffington Post quotes America’s second president, John Adams: “Fear is the foundation of most governments” and says it is no wonder that Americans are afraid today. “Turn on the TV or flip open the newspaper on any given day, and you will find yourself accosted by reports of government corruption, corporate malfeasance, militarized police and marauding SWAT teams,” writes Whitehead. “America is entering a new phase, one in which children are arrested in schools, military veterans are forcibly detained by government agents because of the content of their Facebook posts, and law-abiding Americans are being subjected to the latest in government spy technology.

“These threats to our freedoms are not to be underestimated. Yet even more dangerous than these violations of our basic rights is the language they are couched in — the language of fear. It is a language spoken effectively by politicians on both sides of the aisle, shouted by media pundits from their cable TV pulpits, marketed by corporations, and codified into bureaucratic laws that do little to make our lives safer or more secure.

“This language of fear has given rise to a politics of fear.”

And when Americans become afraid, they buy guns.

Massad Ayoob

Arab-American author Massad F. Ayoob marvels at all the fear. “If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had a conversation with someone in the last few days who asked, ‘Why do ordinary law-abiding people need those semiautomatic firearms with magazines that can hold more than ten cartridges?’” he writes in Backwoods Home. “There are lots of sound answers.

“For one thing, defensive firearms are meant to be ‘equalizers,’ force multipliers that can allow one good person to defend against multiple evil people. To allow one good person to defend against a single evil person so much stronger and/or bigger and/or more violent than he or she, that the attacker’s potentially lethal assault can be stopped.

“In the 1980s and into the 1990s, cops switched en masse to semiautomatic pistols. So did the gun-buying public. Today, the most popular handgun among police seems to be the 16-shot, .40 caliber Glock semiautomatic. Not surprisingly, the general public has gone to pistols bracketing that caliber in power (9mm, .40, .45) with similar enthusiasm. The American police establishment has also largely switched from the 12 gauge shotgun which was also the traditional American home defense weapon, to the AR15 patrol rifle with 30-round magazine. And, not surprisingly, the law-abiding citizenry has followed suit there, too.

Rifles on display at a gun shop

“The reasoning is strikingly clear. The cops are the experts on the current criminal trends. If they have determined that a ‘high capacity’ semiautomatic pistol and a .223 semiautomatic rifle with 30-round magazines are the best firearms for them to use to protect people like me and my family, they are obviously the best things for us to use to protect ourselves and our families.”

Is fear – and arming ourselves – perhaps a uniquely American tradition? After all, Thomas Jefferson advised: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety,” declared Benjamin Franklin.

A school guard

“For those of us fighting for our traditional rights,” writes Mishin in Pravda, “the U.S. 2nd Amendment is a rare light in an ever-darkening room. Governments will use the excuse of trying to protect the people from maniacs and crime, but in reality, it is the bureaucrats protecting their power and position.

“The excuse that people will start shooting each other is also plain and silly. So it is our politicians saying that our society is full of incapable adolescents who can never be trusted? Then, please explain how we can trust them or the police, who themselves grew up and came from the same culture? No it is about power and a total power over the people.

“Do not be fooled by a belief that progressives, leftists hate guns. Oh, no, they do not. What they hate is guns in the hands of those who are not marching in lock step of their ideology.”

But be careful not to embrace fall for the manipulation of those who use fear to their own advantage, advises Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times. “In the 19th century, fears were stoked by books written by people who supposedly had ‘escaped’

Catholicism. These kinds of stories inflamed a mob of patriots in 1834 to attack an Ursuline convent outside Boston and burn it down.

Nicholas Kristof

“Similar suspicions have targeted just about every other kind of immigrant. During World War I, rumors spread that German-Americans were poisoning food, and Theodore Roosevelt warned that ‘Germanized socialists’ were ‘more mischievous than bubonic plague.’

“Anti-Semitic screeds regularly warned that Jews were plotting to destroy the United States in one way or another,” notes Kristof. “A 1940 survey found that 17 percent of Americans considered Jews to be a ‘menace to America.’

“Chinese in America were denounced, persecuted and lynched, while the head of a United States government commission publicly urged in 1945 “the extermination of the Japanese en toto.” Most shamefully, anti-Asian racism led to the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II.

“All that is part of America’s heritage, and typically as each group has assimilated, it has participated in the torment of newer arrivals. But we have a more glorious tradition intertwined in American history as well, one of tolerance, amity and religious freedom. Each time, this has ultimately prevailed.”

Meanwhile, what is a parent to do? Sending your child to a school that may be the next target of a lunatic gunman is terrifying.

“As a parent of two boys under the age of four,” Paltzik writes that the idea of millions of guns worries gun-control advocates. But their passivism doesn’t work. “What will gun control proponents say after the next school shooting? Will they admit that gun control is an abject failure? Don’t bet on it. They will call for further gun control. Incremental restrictions occur until gun ban precedent is so overwhelming that the right to bear arms is lost. Eventually, there comes a point where the new hysteria is ‘knife control.’

“And after all the knives are taken away, what then? Hammer control? Where does it end? The slippery slope is real: in 2008, samurai swords were banned in England and Wales! The current debate in the UK involves banning steak knives.”

Paltzik, noting he is “a Jew who views the Nazi rise to power and subsequent Holocaust as a lesson never to be forgotten,” writes that “despots like Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin took whatever they wanted unless and until confronted with superior force. Violent criminals operate on a smaller scale but think the exact same way.

“Before the Nazis came to power, many German Jews believed themselves to be part of the fabric of German society. These tragically naïve and unarmed Jews were easy pickings for the Nazi thugs who destroyed Jewish property and synagogues, then came in the night to abduct their families in order to banish them to appalling death camps, most never to be heard from again. History has much to tell us if only we will listen.”

But it couldn’t happen in America, right? Well, where did New York City’s anti-gun laws come from? According to the editors of Clash Daily, “the father of New York gun control was Democratic city pol ‘Big Tim’ Sullivan – a state senator and Tammany Hall crook, a criminal overseer of the gangs of New York.

“Big Tim” Sullivan

“In 1911 – in the wake of a notorious Gramercy Park blueblood murder-suicide – Sullivan sponsored the Sullivan Act, which mandated police-issued licenses for handguns and made it a felony to carry an unlicensed concealed weapon.

“This was the heyday of the pre-Prohibition gangs, roving bands of violent toughs who terrorized ethnic neighborhoods and often fought pitched battles with police,” write the editors. “In 1903, the Battle of Rivington Street pitted a Jewish gang, the Eastmans, against the Italian Five Pointers. When the cops showed up, the two underworld armies joined forces and blasted away, resulting in three deaths and scores of injuries. The public was clamoring for action against the gangs.

“Problem was the gangs worked for Tammany. The Democratic machine used them as shtarkers (sluggers), enforcing discipline at the polls and intimidating the opposition. Gang leaders like Monk Eastman were even employed as informal ‘sheriffs,’ keeping their turf under Tammany control.

“The Tammany Tiger needed to rein in the gangs without completely crippling them. Enter Big Tim with the perfect solution: Ostensibly disarm the gangs – and ordinary citizens, too – while still keeping them on the streets.

“Sullivan knew the gangs would flout the law, but appearances were more important than results.

“Ordinary citizens were disarmed, which solved another problem: Gangsters had been bitterly complaining to Tammany that their victims sometimes shot back at them.”

So, Sullivan pushed through one of the most restrictive gun laws in America. And oddly, gun violence did not end in New York City, notes U.S. Marines Corporal Joshua Boston.

He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 and 2005. “I own the guns I own because I acknowledge mankind’s shortcomings instead of pretending like they don’t exist,” he wrote recently for CNN a column that has been widely published on the Internet – particularly because of his personal vow to California Senator Diane Feinstein that he as a gun owner is her protector, not her enemy – and that he will never give up his guns. “There are evil men in this world and there just may be a time when I need to do the unthinkable to protect me or my family.”

His wariness and that of today’s gun-buying spree goes beyond burglars and madmen – or hunting, says Kevin D. Williamson, writing in National Review.

“The Second Amendment is not about Bambi and burglars. Whatever a well-regulated militia is, it is not a hunting party or a sport-clays club,” writes Williamson. “It is remarkable to me that any educated person believes that the second item on the Bill of Rights is a constitutional guarantee of enjoying a recreational activity.

“There is no legitimate exception to the Second Amendment for military-style weapons, because military-style weapons are precisely what the Second Amendment guarantees our right to keep and bear. The purpose of the Second Amendment is to secure our ability to oppose ‘enemies foreign and domestic,’ a guarantee against disorder and tyranny.

“Consider the words of Supreme Court justice Joseph Story – who was, it bears noting, appointed to the Court by the guy who wrote the Constitution:

“The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections … it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.

“Liberals are forever asking: ‘Why would anybody need a gun like that?’ And the answer is: because we are not serfs. We are a free people living under a republic of our own construction. We may consent to be governed, but we will not be ruled.”

And perhaps that’s what makes us Americans – ever disrespectful of our own government, wary of restrictions on our personal liberties, vigilant against a wide spectrum of real and perceived threats.

And, yes, armed.

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