Y2K: The Fear Factor

Something curious is happening as this year comes to an end. There's been a big jump in gun sales. And there's speculation it might have something to do with the calendar.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart investigated the phenomenon.

Gun salesmen first noticed the trend in early spring. With fall in the air, the pace is quickening.

For reasons no one can fully explain America seems to be headed for a record year in gun sales, beating even the industry's best estimates.

"I think when the year is over - and we're just entering the busiest part of the year nowÂ…it'll be 15 percent or something like that," says Robert Delfay, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

That's 15 percent over government and industry projections, or an estimated 375,000 additional rifle, pistol and shotgun sales on top of the 2.5 million sales already forecast for this year.

And there is growing evidence that what's driving those new sales is fear over what happens 99 days from now, when the ball falls and Y2K is here.

Researchers at the pro-gun control Violence Policy Center, for example, point to recent gun magazine stories urging readers to buy at least two rifles apiece for Y2K. And there's even a special "Y2K-Ready" model being offered by one manufacturer.

Josh Sugarmann, executive director of the Violence Policy Center, observes, "The reality is that fear sells guns."

Adds Sugarmann: "And for the gun industry what could be better than the thought of the end of the world and the collapse of civilization as we know it."

Those are the tamest of predictions by some of the 223 Y2K books currently on the market.

"Get ready," warn the books. They say computer failures will shut down electric utilities, prison gates will swing open at midnight, terrorist attacks will occur in larger cities and wild dog packs will roam the streets.

And many of those books recommend stockpiling weapons as a precaution.

Gun retailers say they're seeing an especially high demand for .223-caliber military style rifles and close-in defense weapons.

Ammunition sales have also soared. One Midwest distributor reported selling 9,000 cases or 9 million rounds in two days.

Several Y2K authors declined to share their predictions and gun recommendations. And the industry says it does not agree with the scare tactics.

"We do not think that's right," says Delfay. "And we do not encourage anyone to purchase a firearm in anticipation of Y2K chaos, in part because we don't think that's going to happen and in part because we think it would be totally inappropriate."

The real concern to law enforcement officers is the fear factor involved. Their own Y2K nightmare is that come New Year's Eve, a wide range of Americans will have bought the hype peddled by the fear mongers.

And they worry that some will be hiding behind their doors that night, armed to the teeth and prepared o shoot first and ask questions later.

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