COLUMBIA — The sounds of bullets echo across the hills of Rocky Fork Lakes Conservation Area shooting range off U.S. 63, cracking through the air at nearly a thousand feet per second before being swallowed by nearby mounds of dirt and cardboard targets. Inside the gully is the long column of gunmen, squeezing the triggers and sending fire screaming from the muzzles in rapid flickers of light.
For Chris Everman, one of the shooters at the range Tuesday afternoon, it's just stress relief.
"Blowing something up is always fun," Everman said. "Just holding that much power is cool."
Everman is one of many Missourians who is currently in the firearms market, which had an increase in demand shortly after Barack Obama won the presidency in November 2008.
According to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which conducts background checks necessary to legally obtain a firearm on behalf of participating states, there has been a nearly 42 percent increase — or 449,712 more checks — from November 2007 to November 2008.
Additionally, checks have seen increases of nearly 24 percent in December 2008 and a nearly 29 percent in January from those months the previous year.
Everman, who has been going to the range for nearly 10 years, said he has noticed an increase of gunmen in recent months.
"If it's a nice Saturday, it's pretty packed," Everman said. "Or about 5 o'clock in the evening people like to rush out there and shoot off a few rounds."
Bob Cron, a clerk at Target Masters in Columbia, said the market demand for firearms is considerably higher than in the past, and said he believes there is a causal connection between the Obama administration and the gun hype.
"The supply is way down," Cron said. "Before the election, we were selling probably one or two AR-15s (a semi-automatic rifle) in a week. And a week after the election we probably sold, like, 20."
Cron said he believes the increased demand of firearm supplies is driven by a fear of gun regulation by a Democratic-controlled Congress.
"They're hoarding," Cron said. "I'm on a couple discussion boards and I hear guys talk about going up and buying a case or two of ammo every payday. And that kind of stuff wasn't going on before the election, so it's post-election buying frenzy anticipating with the Democrats in control of everything that we're going to have more gun control."
Cron says he is not optimistic about the state of firearms, and believes the fear generating market sales is legitimate. He cited the H.R. 45: Blair Holt’s Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2009 and President Obama’s voting record as an Illinois legislator as reason for concern. He called the H.R. 45 Act an “Illinois gun control law on steroids.”
The H.R. 45 Act, which was introduced early January and is sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., provides "for the implementation of a system of licensing for purchasers of certain firearms and for a record of sale system for those firearms, and for other purposes."
Cron said ammunition prices have been going up as well, but is unrelated to the election results.
"They haven't taken any huge price jump since the election, but they've been going up for a year," Cron said.
Many gun aficionados say they feel the sting of recent increased prices of firearms at some retailers. Columbia resident Charles Mills is one of them.
"I was looking at a muzzle kit," Mills said. "They were selling it for $79. And I go in there today just to get ammunition, and I look at the same thing and they want $229. Prices are getting pretty high."
Rob Rasmussen, who was also at the shooting range Tuesday, holds a similar view.
"Gun prices have gone through the roof. It's ridiculous," Rasmussen said, standing beside a table where the deep blacks and sun-struck silvers of a Colt-45 revolver, Ruger P95 and a CZ-52 pistol lay. "I just think they (gun merchants) want to use that fear that most gun buyers have that some Democrat's going to take away their guns to jack up gun prices. But nobody's going to take away guns."
Even amid the fear that the sky is falling onto gun-owners, many said they do not see guns disappearing from the American culture anytime soon.
“Guns are always going to be there,” Everman said.
“People are going to get guns regardless,” Mills added. “Quite honestly it might be the thing that makes us the safest from invasion of any other countries, because every other country on earth knows: Americans are armed.”