Firearms are in a third or more of U.S. households and suspicion runs deep of an overbearing government whenever it proposes expanding federal authority. The argument of gun-rights advocates that firearm ownership is a bedrock freedom as well as a necessary option for self-defense has proved persuasive enough to dampen political enthusiasm for substantial change after recent mass shootings.
That may be changing.
A growing number of Democratic politicians — even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had previously taken pro-gun positions for years, and moderate gun owners like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — have indicated an openness to tighten gun laws. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plans to introduce a bill next year that would renew the expired ban on newly purchased assault weapons in addition to restricting clips or drums that hold more than 10 bullets. And even some Republicans now say they're willing to discuss the politically treacherous issue of gun control along with mental health issues and violent video games.
Some gun owners appear to be anticipating changes in the law, buying up certain types of firearms while they're still permitted.
Andrew Molchan, director of the Professional Gun Dealers Association, said Tuesday that sales of the AR-15 — the same rifle Adam Lanza used in Newtown, Conn. — have increased across the country.
"It's what you might expect especially when people start talking about banning certain guns," Molchan said. "I would be surprised if there is much inventory on the shelves anywhere at this point."
Other gun owners in states like Maine are reaching out to their elected officials to ensure their interests are protected.
"I've been contacted by Mainers on all sides of this issue," said Rep. Maine Michaud, a moderate Democrat who represents much of the rural part of the state. "Some are looking for reforms to our gun laws as they relate to assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and others are concerned about restrictions on their constitutionally protected rights."