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Page last updated at 07:49 GMT, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Obama victory prompts US gun rush

By Kevin Connolly
BBC News, Houston

A sign in the Top Gun shooting range
The right to carry arms is enshrined in the US constitution

In a quiet side street not far from where the Texas freeway system knits the sprawling suburbs of Houston into something like a city centre, business is booming at the Top Gun shooting range.

Recession is not biting here in the oil-rich Energy Capital of the World as it is in the rest of the United States - but that is not the only reason why it is difficult to find a parking space outside Top Gun towards the end of the working day.

America's gun owners are worried that the incoming Obama administration, which is coming to power offering hope and change, is going to mean something rather different for them - restriction and regulation.

So they are rushing to buy certain types of weapons in the dying weeks of the Bush years.

Sales of military-style assault weapons (like the Russian-designed AK-47) which are considered the likeliest targets for future curbs have increased by 50% in some areas.

My son knows what I'm going to do - I'm going to shoot to kill
Jessica

Inside Top Gun I met Jessica who was completing the 10-hour, $148 course which would allow her to carry a concealed firearm in Texas.

Jessica is a single mum who had been putting off doing the course and had now finally decided to complete it before any further restrictions were placed in her way.

She was clear about why she was doing it.

"Being a single mum, I can't imagine not having a gun for home protection because that makes me a more confident parent, knowing that if someone intrudes into my home I know exactly what to do and my son knows what I'm going to do. I'm going to shoot to kill."

Cultural divide

It is not quite what Mr Obama meant by change, or indeed economic stimulus from the extra sales of weapons and courses, but it is one of the more revealing responses to his victory which the last few weeks have brought.

Notices at Top Gun shooting gallery
The Top Gun shooting gallery could not exist in Europe
It is a reminder that Barack Obama's win was not just a victory of optimism and energy over age and staleness, it was also a victory across a cultural divide, of one sort of America over another.

A gun-lovin', largely rural and conservative vision of the US was clearly defeated by a brand of big city liberalism which fears or despises firearms and wants to do something about America's love affair with them.

The American right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment of the constitution, so there is a limit to what even a Democratic president supported by majorities in both the House and the Senate could do it about, even if he were minded to.

Any legislation would really tinker around the edges of the right, restricting the purchase of certain types of assault weapon, and certain sizes of ammunition cartridge.

And Mr Obama, although he did not talk much about gun control, did try to re-assure the gun community in a speech in October that he was not going to take their shotguns, rifles or handguns.

He's done everything in his power to restrict those privileges that we have
Jeff Trometer on Mr Obama
The gun lobby, though, prefers to remember the "Bittergate" episode when Mr Obama was secretly recorded at an off-the-record fundraiser talking about how in certain areas Americans clung to their guns and their religion out of bitterness at how the country was changing around them.

The gun lobby sees that as representing Mr Obama's true thoughts and intentions and is on its guard.

Jeff Trometer, one of the staff at Top Gun, is deeply suspicious of the new president, claiming: "He does not like guns, he does not like gun owners and he's done everything in his power to restrict those privileges that we have."

'Fundamental freedom'

Top Gun is the kind of business that simply could not exist in Europe - the staff wear holstered handguns both in the shop and on the shooting range.

A man holds a .50 caliber rifle at a gun shop in Fort Worth, Texas (06/11/2008)
Gun ownership ensures a balance of power, say enthusiasts

A souvenir T-shirt carries a kind of spoof of a multiple-choice government form with two boxes marked Gun Owner and Gun Victim - underneath, it says, "Choose One".

No area of American daily life makes this country feel more foreign to Europeans - business is brisk at the range and plenty of doctors, lawyers and office workers stop off on the way home from work to sharpen their skills and to relieve a little stress.

European tourists often come too, lured by the chance to fire a machine-gun or a pistol under strict supervision.

But, while many Americans would strongly disagree, gun enthusiasts see this as a struggle not about the right to target-shooting or even hunting in the wild but a dispute in which something much more profound is at stake.

They believe the constitutional guarantee of the people's right to bear arms means that the balance of power between the government and the governed is different in America from anywhere else in the developed world.

Mr Trometer put it like this: "If you start tearing at our fundamental freedoms and you take this right away and then maybe someone else comes along and says, 'You really don't have the right to speak your mind'.

"All of a sudden this framework of rights as a citizen of this country ... there's nothing left."

The Obama administration, its hands full with recession and global financial crisis, has given no indication that it intends to take on the gun lobby. If it does eventually decide to confront the issue then there is no doubt it will find the gun owners of America ready, as always, for a fight.



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