(Bloomberg) — Conflict is on America’s streets in 2020, and “tactical apparel” has become a lifestyle industry serving militarized law-enforcement agents and the freelance gunmen who emulate them. Less than two weeks before Election Day, orders are rolling in.

Since last year, online purchases have driven a 20-fold jump in sales of goods like the $220 CM-6M gas mask — resistant to bean-bag rounds — for Mira Safety of Austin, Texas.

In some suburban and rural settings, it’s become everyday wear. A retail chain called 5.11 Tactical, which traces its roots to a friend of President Donald Trump’s adult sons, is even trying to turn the survivalist look into a fashionable national brand. It’s racking up annual sales of almost $400 million with stores in places including Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the U.S. Army’s Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Across the country, gun and ammunition sales have surged as well.

“It’s evidence of what many people have been expressing concern about for the last six months — the stress associated with the pandemic, a frustration or anger about various government mitigation efforts and a belief that those efforts are infringing on their individual liberties,” said Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary for threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security.

Tactical gear speaks “to a form of militaristic patriotism, a way for them to find their identities,” said Neumann, who resigned this year over what she described as the Trump administration’s failure to address domestic threats.

Half the orders at Gladiator Solutions come from civilians, a big change from years when law enforcement was the major customer, said Matt Materazo, founder of the Danville, California, company.

“We’ve seen a big uptick coming out of New York, New Jersey, Illinois — not just those states but Chicago, Manhattan, Queens and San Francisco,” he said. “We never did business with folks from San Francisco.”

His biggest seller is a $220 body-armor plate meant to withstand bullets fired from an AK-47.

Americans Are Frantically Buying Military Gear Before the Election
Americans Are Frantically Buying Military Gear Before the Election

Before the pandemic, 5.11 Tactical, based in Irvine, California, was opening two stores a month, drawing customers for “Always Be Ready” events akin to cooking demonstrations at Williams Sonoma. Amid racks of military-style boots, pants and vests, the classes taught self defense, trauma care and “everyday/concealed carry.”

Unexpectedly high consumer sales maintained growth during lockdowns, according to Compass Diversified Holdings Inc., a Westport, Connecticut-based company that owns 5.11 Tactical among a portfolio that also includes Ergobaby infant carriers.

Same-store sales including e-commerce rose 10.5% in the second quarter after 7.5% growth in the first quarter, Chief Operating Officer Pat Maciariello told analysts on a conference call in July.

‘Preparedness Mindset’

The “increased preparedness mindset” is one reason 5.11 Tactical is potentially “transformational,” Maciariello said.

More evidence of a maturing industry: Buyers connect in online forums to discuss the best gear, compare prices and complain when companies rip them off. Megan Squire, a professor at North Carolina’s Elon University, has monitored extremist-group members who lay ballistic vests flat and post pictures, like so-called unboxing videos popular on YouTube. In one post, she said, an enthusiast mocked another user for buying armor that didn’t adequately cover his vital organs.

The 500,000-member U.S. Concealed Carry Association, which says it is “dedicated to helping responsibly armed Americans prepare for the before, during, and after of a self-defense incident,” has seen membership explode.

The group is signing up members four times faster than a year ago, said Tim Schmidt, the president. For his part, he recommends against buying ballistic vests.

“You’re preparing yourself for a situation you shouldn’t be in,” Schmidt said. “There’s no reason to actively insert yourself into a violent situation.”

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Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

Read more at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/americans-are-frantically-buying-military-gear-before-election
Copyright © BloombergQuint

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