On Election Day, Thomas Brown cast his vote and bought a gun. An AR-15 military-style rifle, to be exact.

Brown had wanted the rifle for some time and figured he best get one while he could, before a new president took office.

"On the off-chance someone tries to put an assault-weapons ban in place, I prefer to own one now versus trying to buy it later," the 29-year-old Florence resident said Monday.

He's not alone.

Firearms and ammunition sales have surged in South Carolina and other states in recent months, driven in part by fears that a Barack Obama presidency and a Democratic-led Congress will usher in a new era of strict gun control laws.

Gun enthusiasts are worried that Obama will try to make the 1994 assault weapons ban a permanent fixture, as well as push for steep taxes on ammunition.

"That's everybody's fear right now, that you better buy it while you can," said Scott Hornsby, manager of Carolina Rod & Gun in West Ashley, which has seen gun sales climb 10 to 15 percent since the election.

Some gun-control advocates say such worries are unfounded, and that the run on the guns is largely the result of fear-mongering and industry hype. They argue that sudden changes in gun policy are unlikely, particularly since the new president will have his hands full with the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other pressing issues.

"This is so silly and unnecessary," said Peter Hamm, communication director for the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"If someone has $500 burning a hole in their pocket, they ought to go buy their child a present for the holiday, because they are not going to have any difficulty buying a gun in America any time soon."

Such assurances haven't stopped many people from stocking up on firepower before Obama takes office. Buying frenzies and backlogs have been reported from San Diego to Boston, despite a pricetag of $1,500 or more for an AR-15.

While these reports have largely been based on anecdotal evidence, some hard statistics also suggest a trend.

Nationally, background checks for gun purchases jumped nearly 49 percent during the week Obama was elected, compared with the same time period last year, according to the FBI's National Instant Background Check System.

In South Carolina, applications for concealed-weapons permits were running about 32 percent above last year's numbers through the end of October, according to the State Law Enforcement Division.

Arlyn Pendergast, owner of the ATP Gun Shop & Range in Summerville, said his sales are up at least 20 percent since the election.

"I would probably say 10 to 20 percent of the people who actually mention the reason why they're buying right now say it's because of the regime change," he said.

Customers stood in lines 10-people deep on Saturday at ATP. One regular described the scene as "like Wal-Mart at Christmas."

Hornsby of Carolina Rod & Gun said the demand from consumers is such that it's hard for stores to keep military-style rifles such as AR-15s and AK-47s in stock.

"I could call any distributor right now and they're all sold out. They're are basically waiting until they get more from the manufacturer. The wait can be from four weeks to who knows when," he said.

Obama's campaign said the president-elect "respects the constitutional rights of Americans to bear arms" and pledges to "protect the rights of hunters and other law-abiding Americans to purchase, own, transport and use guns."

Gun owners are wary of his record of voting for gun-control measures while serving as an Illinois state senator and his talk of "common sense measures," such as eliminating the loophole that allows firearms sales at gun shows without background checks.

The National Rifle Association spent millions during the campaign to push the message that Obama would be "the most anti-gun president in American history."

Such fears were stoked again in recent days by reports that prospective members of Obama's administration were asked about gun ownership in their families as part of a lengthy job questionnaire.

Obama's campaign said the move was simply designed to ensure proper registration of guns, but U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., called the question deeply disturbing and potentially discriminatory.

Ladd Everitt, communications director for the Washington-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the gun lobby has worked hard to instill fear of Obama, but there is little movement, even among Democrats, for broad-based gun control reform.

"Is a gun ban possible? Not in anyone's wildest dreams," he said.

Still, gun dealers expect sales to remain steady in the weeks leading up to Obama's inauguration. South Carolina will be helping that effort with its first Second Amendment Sales Tax Holiday, a 48-hour period in which residents can buy handguns, rifles and shotguns tax-free.

The holiday, approved by the General Assembly this year, begins the day after Thanksgiving.

Some, like Charles McNeil of Moncks Corner, say they are not going to get caught up in the hype and start stockpiling out of fear that Obama will take their guns away.

"He's not going to do that," the lifelong hunter said. "Not in this Southern state. With all the hunting and stuff that goes on here, that's never going to change."