Preparing for the worst

Some consider it paranoia. Others believe they are preparing for survival.

But from shooting ranges to army-navy stores, sales pertaining to self-defense have increased across the country. Some gun ranges have seen their business triple, while other stores dealing with survival gear are answering the questions of curious customers.

Many stores said they saw the increase only days after the Sept. 11 attacks, and it hasn’t quieted down yet.

But Jacqueline Cattani, director for USF’s Center for Biological Defense, said people are overreacting. Doing so is giving terrorists “exactly what they want,” she said.

The Gun Industry

Gun ranges in the area have seen a rapid boom in sales. Some ranges, such as The Indoor Shooting Company on Fowler Avenue, Shooting Sports, Incorporated on North Dale Mabry Highway and Bill Jackson on US Highway 19, have seen their business triple in the past month. People have flocked to gun safety and concealed weapons permit courses.

“It’s a phenomenon across the country,” said Gary Skiba, firearms manager of Bill Jackson. “No one was obviously prepared for this.”

In addition to the increasing use of firing ranges, the sale of guns at Bill Jackson has almost tripled as well, and in 30 years, Skiba said he had never seen anything like the amount of people in the store after the attacks.

“On Sept. 13, the blast came in, and it hasn’t stopped since,” he said.

Skiba said gun lessons are now booked three months in advance, and the store is adding more to meet the demand.

The courses teach gun buyers and potential gun handlers skills such as basic handgun safety, the mechanics of firing and gun laws.

“We want to make sure they have an understanding of what they bought,” Skiba said. “We practice what we preach. It has to come with some type of instruction.”

Other shooting ranges have handled the increase in similar manners. Ken Zellers, an employee for the Indoor Shooting Company, said he wants to help people “prevent ignorance and carelessness” when dealing with guns.

“There are more guns out there to choose from than automobiles,” Zellers said. “You need to be responsible with it.”

Zellers said the rise in customers began on Sept. 12, and the following weekend, they did the best business the range had seen in its five years of being open. He estimated business had risen between 60 and 80 percent.

Mark Little, employee for Shooting Sports on North Dale Mabry Highway, said he, too, has seen an increase in sales. The ages of people wanting to learn how to shoot a gun range from 10 to 70, Little said.

But employees of shooting ranges disagree on the effectiveness of learning how to use a firearm in the event of another terrorist attack. Zellers believes that although owning a gun is a personal decision, those who can defend themselves have an obvious advantage.

“In stress situations, you do what you have practiced,” he said. Skiba said the experience level of someone would affect his or her ability under stress.

“Sometimes, it only takes one person to make a difference,” he said.

But Little said a terrorist attack would be aimed more toward the destruction of mass amounts of people, so knowing how to operate a firearm wouldn’t be useful.

“It may make them feel a little safer,” Little said. “But a terrorist is not going to come into your home.”

Gas Masks

With the recent scare of biological and chemical warfare and the continuing developments of anthrax, gas mask retailers have had a difficult time maintaining a steady stock.

“I could have sold a thousand if I had a thousand,” Josh Frye, an employee for Headquarters Military Surplus, Incorporated, said.

Other manufacturers are experiencing similar demands. Jeanine Mason, an employee for US Cavalry, said although gas masks are normally sold only to military and law enforcement personnel, the Sept. 11 attacks caused the company to reconsider their policies and allow the sale of gas masks to the general public.

“There has been a gradual increase, but not an overwhelming amount of orders,” Mason said.

US Cavalry has one mask, the Advantage 1000, which protects against biological and chemical factors. However, the masks are on back order, and Mason said she did not know for how long. The military and rescue teams have precedence over civilians in obtaining the masks.

The masks’ effectiveness depends on a combination of factors, such as the density of the chemical and how long it is in the air.

Frye said Headquarters Military Surplus has two types of masks, one selling for $29.99 and the other selling for $249. He said the less expensive mask is a German mask made in the 70s, and because they have never been used, Frye said they are just as effective as the more expensive masks.

Frye said the filter in the mask lasts for about 8 hours, depending on the chemical. But he said he offers alternative advice for inquiring customers. Frye said if a chemical or biological attack were to occur, people should put on a gas mask, get in a car and drive away without turning on the air.

“Don’t try to wait something out,” he said.

Both US CAV and Headquarters also sell chemical suits. Frye said the chemical suits are lined with charcoal and they don’t let any chemicals in or out of the suit. He said hunters often buy them to eliminate their own smells around deer.

Mason said the chemical suits sold by US CAV protect against chemical agents, but they have never been tested for a biological situation. But Cattani has a different view. She said gas masks wouldn’t be effective because in order to work properly, the gas mask would have to be fitted to each individual. She also said no one has ever recommended the general public should buy gas masks.

“And since you don’t know when you’re going to be exposed, you’d have to wear (a gas mask) all the time,” Cattani said. “How practical is that?”

Survival gear

Sales in items such as water filters, hydration systems and pre-cooked-dehydrated foods, have also increased. Mason said the public is now more interested in certain items once only sold to the military, such as hydration systems, which are used to store water for drinking and are worn on a person’s back.

“The military has been using them for a long time,” Mason said.

Frye said Headquarters sells water filters ranging from $21 to $250, the latter of which could clean sewer water.

In the Bill Jackson camping department, items such as freeze-dried food products, sleeping bags and water purification tablets and filters have higher sales.

“There have been a lot of inquiries,” said Joseph Newton, an employee for Bill Jackson. “It’s not been flooded, but there has been an increase.”

Newton said most people who have come in have done some research, and those who purchase food or water purification products normally buy large quantities. He said the water filters eliminate protozoan and bacteria but do not protect against viruses.

But Cattani said people don’t know what or when something will be put in the water, if at all, leaving water filters and purifiers as possibly not capable of protecting at all.

Newton said one family came in and, without saying much, bought tents and sleeping bags capable of withstanding temperatures on Mount Everest. Newton said price was not an issue with the family, and they were probably preparing for a nuclear winter, in which nuclear weapons cloud the sun from reaching Earth.

According to Newton, people who have read Nostradamus’ predictions are the ones looking at the worst-case scenario. But the employees don’t share in their worries.

“I’m not concerned,” Newton said. “I don’t necessarily see this as heading that way.”

Although no one knows how long the increase in sales will last, businesses said they have seen similar booms in sales during war periods and the Y2K scare. Skiba said Bill Jackson also sees sales rise when there are local homicides or robberies, none of which have lasted for this duration, however.

Mason said she isn’t suggesting people should buy any equipment as a precaution, although the demand remains steady.

“People out there feel as though they do need (the supplies),” she said. “Because we don’t know.” Cattani said there are practical actions the public can take to protect their health, such as getting a flu shot. She said this would help to eliminate any flu-like symptoms which could be mistaken for anthrax symptoms.

“There are more people that will die of the flu each year than ever will die of anthrax,” Cattani said. “It’s an enormous overreaction.”

  • Photo Editor Sam Taylor contributed to this report

  • Contact Lindsay Fosterat