In an Economic Hole, Americans Still Clinging to Guns

In a nation of easy guns, it's not a huge surprise that robust gun sales follow a rise in crime. But with the economy inspiring a new vogue for petty thievery, the United States might become a more armed nation that it has been in a long time.

Florida State University College of Criminology researcher Gary Kleck says the public will often stock up on firearms in economic downtimes. This has been the general meme in every slump since the 1950's. Police would corroborate Kleck's assessment.

At a recent Police Executive Research Forum gathering in Washington, law enforcement said they have noted a 44% jump in recession associated crime like robberies, burglaries and vehicle theft, and this is at a time when 63% are facing funding and staffing cuts.

Hard data on the public armed response comes from the FBI's Instant Criminal Background Check System. The computer system which clears or denies gun buyers in minutes noted 8.4 million background checks from January to September 2008 compared with 7.7 million in the same period in 2007.

There's also a fear in the gun community--many of whom voted for Obama--that newly emboldened Democrats will enact more restrictive legislation along the lines of another Brady Bill.

A gun-toting populous, a great portion of whom charged themselves with protecting the public good, was a founding group of the early United States. Without question, there was much reason to pack heat in the 18th century after a long war with an imperial power. Whole Foods had not arrived yet either and Americans shot their dinner.

But the right to bear arms never goes out of style. It's in the mission statement of the contemporary vigilante groups holed up in Idaho farmhouses and standing sentry along the border with Mexico that protect the public good by keeping immigrants in their crosshairs.

What is it about the mythology of the  armed citizen that we find so appealing? And what does the recession foretell for citizen armed response in the United States? Are we coming apart at the seams or just getting back to our roots?

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