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15 years ago: The Limited Edition Y2K assault rifle

It's 15 years since the new millennium dawned and CBS News is taking a look back
Flashback: Y2K fear boosts gun sales 02:18

Has it already been 15 years since the new millennial dawned? Remember the fears of how computers would come to a grinding halt when the dial turned to year 2000? In a three-part series, CBS News looks at how Americans were coping with the big change. This report deals with fear mongering by gun marketers in 1999. Other reports will look at fears about Russia's Y2K preparedness and how Americans looked to the Amish for how to survive in a technological meltdown.

Sensing the public's concern for public safety, gun manufacturers launched a full scale marketing assault. Gun magazine covers featured the word "Y2K" like cereal boxes feature "free prize." There were even glossy ads featuring the Y2K Limited Edition assault rifle.

Gun magazine covers from 1999 featuring Y2K related gun deals CBS News

Y2K gun buyers said they were afraid of everything from the threat of terrorism to 911 failures, according to former CBS News correspondent Diana Olick's 1999 report on "The CBS Evening News." Olick's story featured Sharon Shand, a new mother in Chantilly, Virginia who had never owned or shot a gun until the Y2K hysteria took over.

Gun dealer Hayward Long with new gun buyer Sharon Shand CBS News

"I just wanted to be prepared in case you know anything happens for Y2K," Shand said. "Just to have an ounce of prevention."

The mix of fear and marketing seemed to have paid off for gun manufacturers. FBI statistics showed mandatory gun background checks were up 20 percent in December 1999 from the previous year. The 23rd of the month, a Thursday, even set a record at the time with 67,000 background checks in one day.

A 1999 CBS News graphic charting the rise in background checks for gun purchases in December 1999 CBS News

Olick spoke with gun dealer Hayward Long who said he sold out of most of the guns he recommends for home use.

"It's been an inordinate amount of sales," Long said, adding that the home defense shotgun was going fast.

There were those who warned against the rush to buy guns in the build up to the year 2000.

"We're not being invaded," said Arlington Police Chief Ed Flynn. "You know who your neighbors are, you really have to have a sensible thought of where does your threat reside. And a point of fact, there's more of a threat to you in your house with a gun that you don't know much about than there is from a marauding band of looters who are responding to the year 2000."

Still, those like Sharon Shand didn't take any chances. At the time they would rather be armed, than scared.

And that's the way it was on Monday, December 27, 1999.

Editor's Note: Ed Flynn is now the police chief of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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