“It’s been this way for the last seven years,” since President Obama got into office, says Mike Moore, Westside’s account manager at RSR Group, a large national gun-and-ammunition wholesaler based in Winter Park, Fla. Moore and others in the industry marvel at the staying power of what they call “the Obama surge”—elevated sales driven by the (unfulfilled) fear of tougher federal gun control. ... “There’s four things selling guns at the moment,” says Rocky Fortino, one of Hopkins’s employees. “One: ‘I’m afraid they’re going to make it harder to buy a gun, so I better get one now.’ Two: ‘I’m afraid of home invasions and other violent crime.’ Three: ‘I’m afraid of mass shootings.’ And four: ‘I’m afraid of terrorism.’” ... With an estimated 300 million firearms already in private hands and surveys showing that a third or so of American households possess a gun, one might assume that the consumer market is saturated. “It’s not,” Hopkins says. “Gun owners are buying more guns, and lately we’re seeing some first-time buyers, too.”
The standard frontier gun at the time was the mountain or plains rifle, a more compact version of the Pennsylvania-Kentucky flintlock muzzle loader, accurate to about two hundred yards. Dependable and powerful, it had one drawback: it took time to properly load—a full minute or close to it, and even longer on a horse, in a fight. Indians knew this and adjusted their tactics accordingly. They would send a few warriors to draw fire; then the entire band would swoop down onto the furiously reloading Anglos. Carrying a pistol or two or three helped, but these single-shot flintlocks were inaccurate at anything but the closest range, and they often snapped, or refused to fire, because of wet powder. And since an Indian could shoot ten to twelve arrows in the time it took to reload, the Anglos were at a serious disadvantage. Until now. ... A Connecticut Yankee who had been raised in a family of some privilege—at least before his father lost the bulk of his fortune—Colt had been fascinated with explosives and firearms since childhood. He’d come up with the idea for his revolver while still in his teens, but he didn’t have the funds for such an undertaking, so he’d hit the road for a few years as the Celebrated Dr. Coult, putting on stage shows demonstrating the wonders of laughing gas. Besides being smart and mechanically curious, Colt was a born huckster, and these shows were popular and lucrative. ... Much later, Colt would write that he burned with a desire to do “what never before has been accomplished by man.” Toward that end, in 1836, at the age of 22, after he’d saved enough money and acquired several investors, and after years of experimenting, he patented a five-shot revolver. ... Firing five shots in less time than one man could reload a flintlock weapon should have guaranteed large orders from the government. But the Paterson, as Colt’s first revolver became known, was fragile and fired a small-caliber ball, and it had to be half-disassembled to reload, so military tests were unimpressive, as were sales. When his company went bankrupt in 1842, Colt had turned to other pursuits, such as underwater mines and waterproof cables.
The weapon is called a railgun and requires neither gunpowder nor explosive. It is powered by electromagnetic rails that accelerate a hardened projectile to staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to one day transform military strategy, say supporters, and keep the U.S. ahead of advancing Russian and Chinese weaponry. ... The Navy developed the railgun as a potent offensive weapon to blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps. The weapon system has the attention of top Pentagon officials also interested in its potential to knock enemy missiles out of the sky more inexpensively and in greater numbers than current missile-defense systems—perhaps within a decade. ... The future challenge for the U.S. military, in broad terms, is maintaining a global reach with declining numbers of Navy ships and land forces. Growing expenses and fixed budgets make it more difficult to maintain large forces in the right places to deter aggression. ... Railgun research leans heavily on commercial advances in supercomputing to aim and on smartphone technology to steer the railgun’s projectile using the Global Positioning System.