In the past month, sales of guns, ammunition and gun related accessories have reached record levels. This is not the first time this has happened, but this is the largest case of panic buying in recorded history.
From 2008 after the national election and well into 2009, gun groups, primarily the NRA managed to drive their membership into an irrational fear that the newly elected Barack Obama would somehow revoke the second amendment. Of course no president can do such a thing unilaterally, but never a group to let facts get in the way, the NRA still managed to instill fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) among its members and other gullible individuals. This led to severe shortages of many models of guns and several sizes of ammunition. 9mm and .380 ammunition became nearly impossible to find and people bought and hoarded cases of it when they could find it. The manufacturers and dealers were caught off guard by the sudden increase in sales and there were severe shortages. Eventually supply caught up with demand and the president did not attempt to implement any new gun control legislation. In fact, he went on to sign several laws that removed restrictions on gun ownership and signed more pro-gun legislation in his first three years than Bush 43 did in eight years.
Despite this record, pro-gun forces, led by the NRA kept up their FUD campaign against him saying that the fact that he did nothing against guns in his first term only proved that he had serious anti-gun plans for his second term if re-elected. As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney had supported and signed some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the country, but he still managed to get the endorsement of the NRA and other pro-gun groups, mainly because he ran as a Republican and that party is viewed as the pro-gun party.
As the 2012 election approached factories geared up for the expected increased sales that an Obama re-election would provide and though sales in November, 2012 set all time records, there were no severe shortages or sharp price increases.
Then the Sandy Hook massacre happened and the relatively small anti-gun groups began to call for new laws and a return to the failed assault weapons ban. The fact that no new law could prevent an incident like Sandy Hook made no difference. Research by VT staffers has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the Sandy Hook incident was a military style assault by at least three trained assassins. I will not go through all of it again here as we have many articles covering this topic available. Assualt teams such as these are able to obtain and use any type of weapon that they desire including heavy military weapons. Even if the “lone gunman” theory were correct, a new law would be of little value. He allegedly killed his mother and proceeded to slaughter 5 and 6 year old children. I don’t mean to be insensitive here, but you don’t need military style weapons for killing kids. He could have used a small handgun or hunting rifle and been just as deadly. He could stop and reload every 10 shots as there was no one there that could overpower him. Of course, this is all theoretical as he was not the real killer.
Since Sandy Hook, sales of guns and gun related accessories has gone off the charts. The first items to sell out naturally were the so called “assault rifles and their large capacity magazines. Price gouging became the norm as rifles that sold for $599 the week before went for over $2000. 30 round magazines that were previously 10 for $69 went for $100 each. .223 ammunition went up to as much as $1.00 per round and was snapped up as soon as it hit the shelves. Since these are the guns that people are talking about banning, this is not much of a surprise. Many people view this as their last chance to buy this type of gun.
What is more difficult to understand is the run on other styles of guns that no one is even considering banning. Handguns with a capacity of 6 rounds are flying off the shelves and even low capacity magazines are virtually impossible to get without paying a king’s ransom. Online dealers are swamped with orders and many have stopped answering their phones. On many sites, there is a month delay on in-stock orders due to limitations in shipping departments. Wholesalers are running out of stock.
Online auctions are overwhelmed. For the last couple of months, I have been looking for a project gun to restore and I followed about 12 guns that were the right model, but were too far gone; that is, they would cost more to restore that the resulting gun was worth. I kept looking for one in better condition but saw the same 12 POS guns listed for 2 months. When the panic hit all 12 sold in less than a week. I was at a major sporting goods store last week and 50 people were in line waiting for background checks to buy guns. The firearm department had mostly bare shelves as even seldom used or wanted items sold out.
I reload my own ammunition and primers are in very short supply. This has been true since mid 2012 when the Department of Homeland Security ordered 1.2 Billion (that’s billion with a B) rounds of .40 caliber hollow point ammunition. This order is entirely for “domestic use” as the military does not use .40 caliber and are prohibited from using hollow point ammunition by the Geneva Convention. The manufacturers are using their capacity to fill this order and their civilian ammunition manufacturing which does not leave many primers for home loaders. The panic buying going on only exacerbates the situation. Other reloading supplies are still available in some calibers but not others. Components for .223 are virtually impossible to get.
All of this leads to the question: Who are the big winners and the big losers in all of this? The biggest group of winners is the gun and ammo manufacturers. They are operating their plants at maximum capacity and selling everything that they build. The NRA has added 100,000 new members in the last month and received millions of dollars in contributions. They have shown that their real constituency is the manufacturers, not the gun owners. If they really cared about the gun owners, they would be telling them to not panic buy as there is really little chance that guns will be unavailable in the future.
The president can make small administrative changes in how existing laws are enforced, but major changes must come from Congress and there is little support for making any substantial changes. The last assault weapons ban was only passed because it was an amendment to a large anti-crime bill that had overwhelming support. Many congressmen and senators who opposed the ban voted for the bill because of all of the other good provisions it contained. Still, it barely passed in the Democrat controlled House. The House is now Republican controlled and many Democrats also support gun rights. There is also the realization, even among anti-gun people who are honest with themselves that the previous ban had no effect on criminal behavior.
All of this does not mean that some minor tweaks can’t be made in laws to make it harder for criminals to obtain guns. Nothing can be done to absolutely prevent guns from getting into criminals’ hands but it could be made more difficult. Estimates show that 75% of NRA members support improving the background check system. This would not harm law abiding citizens in any way as they would still pass the improved checks. Several things can be easily done. First, standardize the checks by requiring all states to use the federal Background check system (NICS) Right now, states have the option to opt out of the federal system and operate their own background checks. This dates from the original Brady Bill which required a five day waiting period during which a background check could be completed. If a state could demonstrate that they had a computerized system capable of an instant check, they could substitute that for the federal 5 day wait. Since that time, the federal database has been implemented and improved so now it only takes five minutes or less to complete a federal background check. Since this system seems to work very well, there is no longer any reason for a state to opt out of the NICS system except for maintaining its own bureaucracy.
The other thing that could be done is to require background checks for all gun purchases. This is what is commonly referred to as the “gun show loophole” but it really refers to any private sale of a firearm. Currently, to purchase a firearm, new or used, from a federally licensed dealer (FFL) the buyer must fill out a form 4473 where he makes a declaration, under penalty of jail, that he is not prohibited from owning a firearm. The dealer also has to perform a background check through the NICS or the state agency.
Purchasing a firearm from a private party varies from state to state. Some require a background check for all guns; some only for handguns, and some not at all. As an example, in Michigan where I live, a person purchasing a handgun from a private party must either get a permit to purchase from a police agency or have a concealed pistol license. The police agency runs a background check before issuing the permit and the CPL holder has undergone extensive background checks in obtaining his license. Records of the transaction are made in triplicate with the buyer and seller each retaining a copy and the third going to the state police. Previously a fourth copy was filed with the buyer’s local police department but that requirement was dropped as of the first of this year. To purchase a shotgun or rifle from a private individual, no background check is required by the state. If a seller wants to be very conscientious, he may take the buyer to a licensed dealer for a background check, but that is very rarely done.
At gun shows, licensed dealers must still perform background checks on all purchases, but private sellers are only limited by state law. Some states allow handguns to be purchased privately without any background check. Whether at a show, in someone’s home or in the parking lot behind the Wal-Mart, it is very easy for someone who is legally prohibited from owing a gun to obtain one. True, it is not legal, but then criminals don’t really care and the seller wants his money and is under no obligation to verify the eligibility of the purchaser to own a gun.
I don’t believe that requiring background checks for all purchases would impose a hardship on a legitimate buyer or seller, but would make it a bit more difficult for a prohibited individual to obtain a gun easily. Why the NRA would oppose this type of legislation is not clear. I know that there is a certain element that feels that the government should not know if they own a gun and fear registration. These people are living under a rock if they think that the government does not already know. With all of the databases and analysis programs available today, believe me, they already know. When you post a comment to a gun website or use a credit card to purchase a gun, it goes into a database somewhere.
In reality, the group that maintains the best database on who owns guns and what they own is the NRA. They claim that this should be your private business, but still maintain the database. As an example, years ago I did not own a gun and almost never received any propaganda from the NRA. I fished and subscribed to fishing magazines so I would get something once every two years or so. Many people both fish and hunt so there is some crossover. After I let my fishing magazine subscriptions run out, I stopped getting NRA letters. However, within a month of my purchase of a gun, I started getting regular ads from the NRA. I understand that a person who owns a gun would be more likely to join their group so the marketing makes sense, but how did they know I bought a gun? They must have informants in the right places and they know who owns guns. I get several ads from them every month now. I also get ads from gun manufacturers and gun magazines so they must have spread my information around among their real clients.
What, if any, changes should we expect?
I believe that there will be a large wave of hot air over Washington in the next month and little real action. Bills will be introduced banning so called assault weapons and large capacity magazines but they will probably die in committee. While a true military assault weapon can be defined, (full automatic capabilities) the semi-automatic civilian models cannot be. The fact remains that functionally an AR-15 operates the same as many hunting rifles and any attempt at a definition will be in appearance only.
The magazine limit has a small chance of passing, but the House Republicans with help from many Democrats will block it. President Obama has stated that if it is the will of the people, he will support gun control legislation, but he will not expend political capital to achieve this goal. This is a rather wimpy statement. I would have preferred that he come out clearly for or against this type of legislation so we would know where he stands. What this statement basically says is either he does not support the legislation but does not want to offend some of his supporters or that he understands that it has no chance of passing and he does not want to waste resources on a losing proposition. Either option means that there will be little or no change in the status quo.
Improved background checks have a realistic chance of passing and they probably should. I recently saw Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, NJ, on TV and he stated that of all of the murders that took place in Newark last year, only one involved a legally purchased gun. The rest were obtained on the secondary market. This is something that can be changed without harming the rights of legitimate gun owners.
When this panic is over and things return to normal (they will eventually) a lot of people will feel silly for paying outrageous prices for guns and components that are now cheaper. Others will wonder why they bought items that they really don’t want or need and prices on these items will plummet. Guns will continue to be available and sales will continue strong. The NRA will continue their Chicken Little campaign and continue to scare their members into submission. They will continue to collect huge sums from gun manufacturers and buy politicians. They will continue to write anti-gun legislation just so they can defeat it and gain respect and money from members.
Ironically, the only magazines that are now readable available are the large 30 round AR-15 ones that people want to ban. When the panic hit, the manufacturers cranked up their output and after a brief shortage, they are again available. The smaller magazines that no one proposes banning are still in short supply.
We live a a strange time and place.