Firearm sales typically rise during presidential elections and they also increase during times of national panic. But lately, gun sales have been up because of retiring baby boomers.
“I’m looking to swap off or sell an AR-15, it’s a cobra. Bushmaster,” said Tom Asbridge while pursuing the handgun selection at Axmen Firearms.
Nearly 13,000 guns were registered in the state of Montana last year, almost doubling over the past five years, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The growth mirrors a nationwide trend, with the National Rifle Association saying that older Americans are a big part of that growth. The number of seniors taking gun training has also grown four-fold in five years.
“We have seen an increase in customers that are over 50. A lot of them are looking more seriously at defensive handguns, but we do see a large clientele that are looking to pass the hunting onto the next generation,” Axmen Firearms salesman Ian Menawieland explained.
Guns are commonly used as tools and toys in Montana as more than 200,000 hunters flow into the fields and forests under the Big Sky each year. “Out here it’s a way of life. Everybody I know has at least one,” said Asbridge.
That way of life is about providing food and having fun, but increasingly — and perhaps more urgently — it’s also about protection.
“People are really realizing that the world isn’t as safe as they believed it is, and starting to take their own protection into their own hands,” Menawieland said. “They’re starting to become more aware of some of the issues they could see and they’re now trying to go ahead and protect themselves.”
While fear of an attacker may be a deciding factor for some, others – like Asbridge — seek protection from one of Montana’s bigger, stronger and furrier assailants.
“I was in the market for a very powerful handgun, because my wife and I both work off-grid, we work in the mountains a lot, and a lot of times we’re in grizzly bear country. Now I’m not out to kill a grizzly unless it’s chewing on my boot,” he said.
Asbridge has been shooting for most of his life. In his off-the-grid lifestyle encounters with potentially aggressive wildlife is a daily possibility. One he takes seriously.
“I need something that’s quick, something I can carry with me because in my work I need both hands a lot so I can’t always pack a shotgun. That’s why we’re here looking,” he said as his wife browsed a selection of revolvers.
Still there are those who purchase firearms for reasons other than hunting or protection. With each presidential cycle, the fear of gun control leads to an increase in gun sales.
“There usually is a little more uncertainty about what’s going to happen with gun rights. We have an election coming up and people are aware of that. Usually folks are not coming in a panic just yet, but they are coming concerned, thinking that they better get ahead of the game,” Menawieland said.
“There’s always something in the legislature, there’s always something being proposed and of course the ATF – the governing body for firearms – is often times looking to limit rights in some way,” he added.
“I’m very uncomfortable with the fact that they’re trying to take our guns away,” Asbridge complained. “Gun ownership, to me, along with being a 2nd amendment right, it is the fact that responsible people should be able to own a gun or as many guns as they feel necessary.”
Fear of restrictive gun laws prompt many firearms enthusiasts to stock up on weapons and ammunition, but the sudden spikes in demand can actually cause shortages as products are bought faster than they can be produced.
Despite this, guns will probably always be a part of the lives and lifestyles of Montanans. Montana has a gun ownership rate of nearly 60% which is almost double the national average.