Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Under the gun — Post-election fear of firearms regulations creates run on sales

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

President-elect Barack Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress have many Alaskans worried the government will take aim at firearms regulations that could drastically increase the cost of guns, if not ban them altogether. But in the meantime, the fear has created a boom in gun sales bigger than Alaska Permanent Fund dividends, hunting season, Christmas shopping, Sept. 11 or any other event firearms merchants on the central Kenai Peninsula have ever seen.

“I’ve been here in this shop about 20 years and have never spent a week in this shop like this week was. At times I needed to be triplets,” said David F. Thornton, of Brown Bear Guns in Kenai.

Firearm retailers across the central peninsula report dramatically increased sales following the general election Nov. 4, where Democrat candidate Obama beat Republican John McCain for the presidency, and Democrats gained six seats in the Senate with three races to be decided and, as of Sunday, 20 seats in the House of Representatives.

“A lot of people were waiting to see what would happen with the election, that’s why there’s a huge increase in sales,” said Travis Wright, owner of The Impact Area on Kalifornsky Beach Road. “A lot of people figured McCain was a shoe-in for the election, but mainly because people are scared about what Obama’s going to do once he gets inaugurated and starts getting people in key positions in the government.”

Wright anticipated the increased demand and ordered 40 percent more stock than he usually would.

“Pretty much all of that is gone,” he said Friday. “I’ve made more money the last two weeks as far as gross sales than I normally do in two months.”

Wall displays and gun racks had as many empty spots on Saturday at The Impact Area, and Wright was sold out of the most popular types of ammo. He’s ordered more stock, but many of the rifles he did have out in the shop were the only ones left, instead of being display models with more in the storeroom for customers to buy.

“There’s been a huge increase in sales. We had the early dividends and sales have not tapered off, in fact, people are still getting their checks, so it’s never tapered off after that,” Wright said.

Many of his customers are paying in cash. He said he’s talked to bankers, who’ve told him people are pulling money out of their accounts to invest in tangible goods — like guns.

Mike Harrell, owner of Mike’s British Guns, in Sterling, said his sales are up, as well. Harrell sells antique, side-by-side shotguns and rifles over the Internet that are 75 to 120 years old. These are high-end, high-dollar firearms. Some sell for upward of $4,000.

“I could go three months at a time without selling anything,” he said.

In the last 10 days, he’s sold $8,200 worth of firearms. He said he doesn’t necessarily know that’s because people are worried about gun bans or increased regulations, but there certainly is a lot of interest in the issue at the moment, which may have contributed to his sales.

Concern and predictions of what regulatory changes may come out of the Obama administration are all across the board, from increased taxes to establishment of nationwide gun-purchase waiting periods, or even outright bans of firearms.

“An increase on guns in price, increase in taxes that they would have to pay, plus the inability to be able to buy them, and they’re concerned about being able to keep them,” Thornton said. “Now, that is an American liberty and freedom — you have the right to keep and bear arms. Every American has that right, and Americans have paid with their blood for the last 200 years for that right and that freedom, if you’re not able to bear arms, then you’re subject to whatever puppet dictator is coming down the street, and that’s why people are scared.”

George Root, co-owner of Soldotna Pawn, said he hasn’t heard Obama make any specific anti-gun comments, but he is concerned about possible regulations. So are his customers. Sales of firearms have doubled recently, he said.

“During his speeches and stuff, he (Obama) said that he’s for the Second Amendment, telling us that he believes in the Second Amendment in there and he’s for that, but he also stated that he is for regulations, and he would like to see the states do the regulating,” Root said. “To me, that’s just an open contract. That’s a big foot in the door, so once that starts, well, anything could happen after that. And I think the majority of Alaskans are concerned about what he’s going to do. Not right away, but what he may do down the road.”

Alaska has some of the least-restrictive gun regulations in the country, Root said. You don’t have to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and there’s no waiting period to buy a gun. Dealers just have to call in a background check to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which usually takes about five minutes, Root said.

Wright said he’s done his homework on gun regulations, and where Obama likely stands on them.

“I hear rumors, what people are saying, but to know for sure and to get the facts you have to read into what people do. I knew what Obama stood for to begin with, I’m all about protecting our rights. I’ll let everyone I possibly can know what I know,” he said.

Wright cited examples of Democrat-controlled states, like New York, California and Obama’s Illinois, being restrictive in firearms regulations. He also said that gun regulations don’t work. When Australia banned guns, for instance, violent crimes increased drastically overnight, he said.

“Those things never worked in the past. I can’t get people to understand that what they’re trying to do is not going to help anybody, it might potentially make things worse,” Wright said.

Judging from sales, people are most concerned about the continued availability of semi-automatic rifles.

“I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the assault rifles,” Root said. “Quite a few people have been coming in for those types of things. They feel those types of rifles will probably be the first to go.”

Thornton, at Brown Bear Guns, said he’s sold out of many types of firearms and ammunition, in particular the semi-automatics.

“They’re interested in people-shooting guns. Semi-automatic. More .223-caliber than anything else,” Thornton said.

Thornton said he prefers moose and bear hunting, to eat what he shoots, but the .223-caliber is worthless for large game.

“Two hundred twenty-three is a caliber that was developed for that Vietnam War, and they’re not fit for anything but wounding and shooting people. They don’t turn my crank at all.”

Root said the .223-caliber are purchased for personal protection, and can be fun to shoot as a recreational gun. Wright said they’re good for some small game hunting.

“The cool thing in the state of Alaska is there’s no magazine capacity restriction, so you could put a 100-round magazine and go coyote or wolf hunting,” he said. “They’re not just used for recreation up here because the laws that we have allow us to do more with them.”

Sales of other merchandise have been brisk, as well. Hunting rifles, pistols, ammo, powder, primer, accessories — whatever inventory gun dealers have are flying off the shelves.

Ron Ross, of Kenai, was looking for a pistol Saturday at The Impact Area that his wife could have for protection when he’s traveling. Fear of higher taxes or tighter restrictions prompted him to buy a gun now, rather than waiting.

“All this is going on, so I just figured I better do it before they put a hold to everything,” he said.

Ross also hunts and has rifles at home.

“But I may buy another rifle before all is said and done,” he said.

Bill and Sandy Forbes, of Soldotna, were considering buying a hunting rifle for their son. Forbes said several of his friends have been talking about possible gun regulations.

“It seems like most Democrat presidents end up wanting to do gun control and they’re worried about your right to buy guns, so you end up getting a run on buying guns,” he said.

That’s good for retailers in the short term, but those who believe higher taxes on firearms or ammunition, increased regulations or outright bans on some firearms are coming, think the post-election windfall will turn into a serious dry spell in sales.

“Sales are going to continue until legislation is passed. Everybody’s scared but it’ll be a while before legislation is introduced and passed,” Wright said.

“It’s a good business to be in when things like this are happening, but what’s going to happen when legislation is passed, I’m going to have to work in the oil field again,” he said.

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