It's a sunny autumn morning in the Smoky Mountains town of Franklin, North Carolina, and business is booming at Jeff's Guns and Ammo.

Twelve pick-up trucks have crowded the car park and the metal security front door of the shop and shooting range opens and closes almost constantly with customers, most of them new, stocking up on handguns, shotguns and semi automatic rifles.

"It is crazy at the moment," says owner Jeff Wong.

Sales started picking up as civil unrest flared in cities across the US following the police killing of George Floyd in May, but as next week's election approaches it is becoming "more than we can handle".

"Not just double the business, much more than double," he says.

"Normally every election year or Christmas it's OK, but this year is a big year."

The vast majority of Mr Wong's current business is made of new customers buying weapons and ammunition to "protect their homes".

And many of them are women "looking after their family", he said, including an 85-year-old local grandmother who bought her first gun this month.

Jeff Wong, the owner of Jeff’s Guns and Ammo at his shop in Franklin, North Carolina. Picture: Angus Mordant
Jeff Wong, the owner of Jeff’s Guns and Ammo at his shop in Franklin, North Carolina. Picture: Angus Mordant

"Some items we cannot even get, like a security shotgun (a short barrelled shotgun) and some sorts of short range ammunition," he says.

Gun sales dropped in the first three years of Donald Trump's presidency, reflecting a historic trend of Americans trusting conservatives to protect their 2nd Amendment.

But the uncertainty of 2020 has flipped this and there is now a nationwide ammunition shortage and soaring weapons sales.

Half an hour north of Franklin, the biannual Waynesville Gun Show last weekend drew hundreds of attendees, including many families with young children.

"I'm coming here to stock up on ammo cos I can't find any at the store," said one man waiting in line for entry.

Franklin gun safety instructor Scott Williamson says his students feel they have to take their security into their own hands. Picture: Angus Mordant
Franklin gun safety instructor Scott Williamson says his students feel they have to take their security into their own hands. Picture: Angus Mordant

The National Shooting Sports Foundation says more than five million Americans "bought a gun for the first time this year".

"We've recorded more than 13.8 million background checks for the sale of a gun this year," said NSSF spokesman Mark Oliva.

"That tops figures for all of 2019 in just the first eight months of 2020. That's caused an unprecedented demand in the marketplace and we're seeing this happen everywhere."

Guns are displayed for sale at Jeff Wong’s shop in Franklin, North Carolina. Picture: Angus Mordant
Guns are displayed for sale at Jeff Wong’s shop in Franklin, North Carolina. Picture: Angus Mordant

Franklin gun safety instructor Scott Williamson says 90 per cent of the graduates of his introductory class for concealed carry licenses weapon are women.

"They are concerned that we are going to lose our police because of what's been happening in the country, between the different movements, with Black Lives Matter and Antifa and all that," said Mr Williamson, 69.

"They're putting so much pressure on politicians to minimise the effectiveness of the police.

"They realise they may have to take their own security into their own hands."

Ever since Richard Nixon stormed to the White House in 1968 on a pledge to restore "law and order" at the end of a chaotic decade, Republicans have known the advantage of campaigning on this core promise.

Legal assistant Liz Allen casts her vote for Joe Biden at the University of North Carolina. Picture: Angus Mordant
Legal assistant Liz Allen casts her vote for Joe Biden at the University of North Carolina. Picture: Angus Mordant

Donald Trump has kept true to this script, constantly warning of the risk of "lawless" Democrats taking over.

"If the left gains power, they'll launch a nationwide crusade against law enforcement," he said recently at the White House.

"Taking their funds away, their firearms, their fundamental authorities - taking everything away, including your freedom. Joe Biden even said, when you call 911, a therapist should answer the call. That doesn't work."

It's a message that is driving strong early turnout in battleground North Carolina, which Mr Trump won in 2016.

The swing state is similar to others in the new south with its Democrat metropolitan areas surrounded by "a sea of red" voting towns.

Scott Williamson prepares a target in the firing range at Jeff’s Guns and Ammo. Picture: Angus Mordant
Scott Williamson prepares a target in the firing range at Jeff’s Guns and Ammo. Picture: Angus Mordant

Ninety minutes northeast of Franklin, booming Asheville has one of America's top liberal arts colleges at its centre and a thriving food and tourism scene.

After casting her early vote for Joe Biden last week, legal assistant Liz Allen, 40, said some locals had joined recent protests at racial inequality and police violence but they had not lasted as long as in bigger cities.

"It's small mountain town with a lot of tourists and a lot of inequality and segregation, not just between people of different races but very wealthy people and very poor people," said Ms Allen, a legal assistant for a non-profit focused on domestic violence.

"There's a big contrast between the rural communities and the urban centre here.

"There's been a long history of police violence and inequality and indiscrimination has some really deep roots here."

 

 

At the indoor rifle range attached the Jeff's Guns and Ammo, Mr Williamson had a message for anyone looking to bring trouble to his bucolic country town.

"This is a relatively conservative area and in Macon County we have a very high concentration of people who have concealed carry (gun) permits, so its unlikely they're going to try and stir up some trouble here," he said.

"They know they're going to get strong resistance.

"And the law enforcement here, the sheriff's department is not going to put up with that, they're just tough on crime.

"So in this area, we seem to be good for now. What's going to happen in several years I can't say.

"We're all very concerned about the election."

 

Originally published as Voters stock up on guns amid fears Trump will be voted out



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