TAMPA — Barack Obama was elected president late Tuesday night, and T.J. Ramsey has spent hours since then fitting assault rifles to the palms of gun-hungry customers at Shoot Straight Tampa.
"Can I get ammo for this?" asks a customer, eyeing his new $1,250 Panther Arms AR-15 on Friday.
"How much you need?" Ramsey replies.
Fears that President-elect Obama will ban certain firearms has stoked a craving for assault weapons — AR-15s and AK-47s — and high-capacity magazines.
Nationwide, purchases of firearms and ammunition have risen as much as 10 percent this year. Gun dealers in the Tampa Bay area and beyond are flooded with customers trying to get guns before the government does.
Outside Shoot Straight Tampa, where the bumper stickers say "NOBAMA" and "Keep The Change," there was a wait Friday for parking spaces.
"It's incredible," says owner Scott Patrick. "The economy is hurting, but people are buying their guns."
Patrick says he can't get assault rifles in the store fast enough.
At Patriot Arms in Brandon, the assault rifle inventory had dwindled to one. "And it won't be here long," said manager Kimberly Wiggins, who is having trouble getting more inventory. "Handguns with high-capacity magazines are going fast as well."
At Skyway Skeet and Trap Club, where the McCain/Palin signs just came down, owner Bob Warren is nervous.
"We're not sure what he's got planned, but we don't think he's got our best interests at heart."
Dealers attribute the spike to several factors, including a worsening of the economy and the fear that crime will rise. But dealers and experts say it's more likely that gun enthusiasts fear Obama will enact a ban on assault weapons.
"This sounds like an Obama effect," says Gary Kleck, a professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, pointing out that the run on guns parallels a rush before Bill Clinton's 1994 crime bill. "This time around, it's based on sheer rumor."
R. Garcia, a private investigator and gun collector, is planning a trip to Miami next week with friends to buy guns they can't find locally.
"These are very nervous times for gun people," he says. "People are scared that their rights are going to change."
Garcia is certain some sort of gun ban will be signed before the Oval Office chair is warm.
Obama said during his campaign that he supported an individual's right to bear arms and also believes in "common-sense safety measures."
"I will not take your shotgun away," he said at a Virginia event in September. "I will not take your rifle away. I won't take your handgun away."
That hasn't stopped the rush.
Kleck said that the fear of a gun ban has been promoted by the National Rifle Association and that Obama has more pressing issues to deal with.
Gun control wasn't a key issue during Obama's campaign, but the NRA ran advertisements labeling Obama "the most anti-gun president in American history." Tables at a recent gun show bore photos of Obama and warned shoppers to "Get 'em before he does."
The NRA defends its advertisements and says the fear driving gun sales is based on fact.
"If you look at the voting record of the president-elect and vice president-elect, you'll see that they have voted for and supported draconian gun control measures again and again," says Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA. "I think hunters and gun owners see a perfect storm coming for the gun-control lobby to exploit."
Whatever the case, it has gun owners in a hurry to bear arms.
"There's been all this talk about the government going door to door to take guns away," says Ramsey, an Army veteran who served two tours in Iraq and now works the counter at Shoot Straight Tampa, one of the country's largest gun dealers. "That's not going to happen."
He hands another customer a sharp black rifle.
"Not in America," he says.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.