The death of 17-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in many ways transformed Ferguson, Mo.; St. Louis and the nation. In the wake of the controversial shooting on Aug. 9, 2014, some took to the streets. Others headed for gun stores.
A wave of protesters, many of them young and black, armed themselves with social media savvy and the perseverance to be out on the streets for weeks on end. They were decrying a criminal justice system that tickets, arrests and imprisons them at rates far higher than that of their white peers. They staked out the Ferguson police department; they laid on the pavement; they flooded local malls; they marched through the streets proclaiming their lives matter, too.
A minority of those protesters looted and burned businesses on the West Florissant commercial strip in Ferguson in the night of rage that followed the announcement that Officer Wilson would not be indicted.
In response to the unrest, others in the St. Louis metro area were arming themselves in the literal sense. The bare walls of gun stores and skyrocketing gun sales were evidence of this. Some gun stores reported a 600 percent increase in gun sales when compared to the same time the year prior. Applications for concealed carry permits that enable Missourians to carry a firearm in public rose 250 percent.
Many of them were first-time gun owners.
“A lot of people who two years ago would have never considered having a gun now feel that it’s important that they defend themselves,” said Paul Bastean, a police officer in Lake Saint Louis, Mo., and the owner of Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center. “It’s definitely a different tone, different climate, different customer coming in for the first time.”
The Training Center is a beneficiary of that boom in business. It is located in St. Peter’s, Mo., a mostly white suburb of St. Louis that feels more rural than urban. It is located 30 miles west of Ferguson.
The firing range not only sells more firearms than ever since the death of Michael Brown but there’s been unprecedented demand for its gun safety courses, too.
One particular course, Civilian Response to Armed Confrontation, gives participants the simulated experience of being in an armed conflict such as a home raid or a convenience store robbery.
“With Ferguson, I think that definitely raised a lot of people’s sense of awareness, heightened it,” said Jonathon Tock, 19, a teenager from the St. Louis area who hopes to become a police officer. “Tons of people are buying guns and different things now that they’ve never done before.”
This video also appeared on The Atlantic.