Call it ‘The Fear Factor’ but people are buying guns
Photos & Report
by Dave Workman
It began last autumn, as people started growing somewhat anxious over the prospect of a Barack Obama victory, and it shifted into overdrive on Nov. 5, the day after Obama’s victory was official.
Americans have been in a buying frenzy ever since. Guns and ammunition, primers, projectiles and powder; people are stocking up on their supplies as concerns grow over the potential of bans on semi-automatic firearms and increased taxes on ammunition. Many new gunowners have emerged from an electorate that put Obama in the White House and an anti-gun Democrat leadership on Capitol Hill. Legions of those gunownersmany of them first-time buyersconfess that they actually voted for Obama and the Democrats based solely on their desire for “change.”
The country is changing, alright, if one looks at the sales figures and ordering backlogs now facing gun manufacturers and retailers. The nation is no longer just “clinging to its guns.” Obama’s election has turned the country into a well-armed camp, with many gunowners observing that if congressional anti-gunners don’t want citizens to have semi-auto rifles, pistols and shotguns, there’s a problem: The people already have them, and they’re buying more.
Michael Kassnar, president of KBI, which imports Charles Daly firearms, told Gun Week that demand for his company’s line of AR-type rifles has been phenomenal.
“There’s a well-founded fear out there that Obama and this team he’s put together will go after so-called assault rifles, that they’re going to try to get them off the market,” he observed. “That’s what’s got everybody running to the gun stores.”
Likewise, Linda Powell, spokesperson for Remington Arms, said the rush on Remington’s AR-platform rifles “started with the election.” She also said there has been a surge in ammunition sales, and she acknowledged having purchased a Remington semi-auto last August, and not getting it until last month, and she’s a Remington employee.
Remington CEO Tommy Milner added that there “is little or no inventory in the trade channels.”
“Fear is driving the demand,” Milner said. “Today, we have no inventory. We’re all wondering how long (the run on guns) will last.”
Milner and others, who gathered in mid-January for the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Orlando, FL, almost unanimously recalled the after-effect of a similar rush to purchase semi-auto rifles, full-capacity magazines and ammunition in 1994 after the Clinton semi-auto ban was signed into law, and before it took effect. For many months afterward, there was an economic slump in the firearms industry because people had stocked up, spent all of their disposable income, and had no need to rush down to the store to buy a new gun or box of ammunition.
Remington owns DPMS and Bushmaster, two other companies that manufacture semi-automatic rifles on the AR platform. Bushmaster’s Thomas Tyler recalled that sales would spike last year “every time Obama went up in the polls.”
“Then, about three days before the election,” he said, “it started getting heavy.”
Obama’s record on gun issues is widely known in the firearms community. He is an opponent of concealed carry, he supports the renewal of a ban on semi-auto sport/utility rifles and original capacity magazines that would this time become permanent, and he supported a complete ban on the sale, manufacture and ownership of handguns.
The new president has surrounded himself with the most ardent gun control advocates from the Clinton Administration. Indeed, his staff and cabinet choices almost make the Obama Administration look like a third Clinton term.
It is that situation that is causing so much concern in the firearms community.
Tyler said Bushmaster customers are facing a three- to four-month backlog, and for customized guns, more like five or six months.
“A lot of people are saying that they’re afraid they’re never going to be able to get one,” he explained.
Brian Schuetz from Olympic Arms recalled that the company started by his father “has been through this before.” First, it was the ban on fully-automatic firearms imposed in 1986, and then the Clinton ban in 1994 on semi-auto look-alikes, and finally the “Y2K” hysteria. All of those events caused buying surges on guns that people believed would be banned or hard to get, or perhaps more ominous, necessary for personal and family protection in the event of a cataclysmic event or social breakdown.
“Obviously,” Schuetz contended, “it is fueled by people afraid of not being able to have what they can have now with the new president.”
There may be another factor involved in the current interest in semi-automatic rifles, and it goes beyond fear of a ban.
Bud Fini, vice president of marketing for Sig-Sauer, suggested that two other factors are contributing to the rise in popularity of semi-auto rifles.
“New shooters are a different breed,” he observed. “We grew up on bolt-actions. In the last 25 years, kids grew up on video games, and they don’t see the kinds of guns we were used to…It’s a changing environment. (New shooters) want the military look.”
Fini contended that this new generation of shooters is more used to the AR platform, and that is the gun they want.
Remington’s Powell acknowledged that increased interest in the AR-type rifle is because more people have been exposed to it, and they are beginning to see that type of firearmespecially those available with camouflage finishes for varmint huntingas part of the mainstream market.
Fini also noted that a lot of today’s shooters are not necessarily hunters. They simply like to shoot, perhaps just for recreation and maybe in matches. They gravitate toward the AR rifle in much the same way that the last generation evolved from an interest in revolvers to more heavily favoring semi-auto pistols.
With the addition of mounting rails on the receiver top and on the forearm handguard, modern shooters have the opportunity to spruce up their rifles with a variety of gear, including lasers, red dot or holographic sights, or tactical flashlights.
Yet Fini acknowledged that many people are buying semi-autos because there is a concern over a future ban, and the potential for other trouble as the economy continues to flounder.
“The middle class is disappearing,” he said. “Some people are moving up, most are going down. People are concerned about social unrest. Do I think it’s going to happen? No.”
The buying surge is not simply confined to rifles. There is another product getting almost as much attention, and that is the so-called “tactical shotgun.” If people want a gun for home protection and they are not comfortable with a handgun, and they cannot quickly obtain an AR-15 clone, the shotgun is a formidable option.
Mossberg’s Joe Koziel hinted that the shotgun gets attention for many reasons, not the least of which is its affordability compared to a tricked-out AR-15 rifle. The Mossberg 500 and 590 shotguns are user-friendly pump-action smoothbores, and they are also versatile. With a shotgun, he noted, a person can defend the home, hunt for big game and small, and even participate in certain competitive shooting sports.
The Model 500 especially is more than just a gun, it is shooting system that can be modified for all kinds of uses with a simple change of barrels and chokes, and different types of shotshells. One could easily say the same for any number of other shotguns, such as the Remington 870. Both models are almost part of the American institution and have been used by hunters for generations.
Koziel said the demand for reliable shotguns has exceeded the supply tenfold.
“We have no inventory, the distributors have no inventory,” he said.
Even with a black synthetic stock, a shotgun may not be as visually intimidating as an AR-15 clone, but many buyers recognize that a shotgun addresses a lot of needs.
The stockpiling is not limited to firearms and ammunition. Many shooters evidently are preparing for a legislative attack on ammunition, either through prohibitive taxes or legislation requiring bullet coding or stamping. To fight back, shooters are preparing to load their own, and evidently on a larger scale than anyone might have considered just a few years, or even months ago.
Bob Nosler, the savvy second-generation bullet maker from Bend, OR, told Gun Week that demand for bullets began picking up months ago, and spiked in November and December.
“We’re on a record year,” he advised. “Some of it is (due to) uncertainty.”
Nosler has also introduced a new line of ammunition, and Nosler Custom brass. Both product lines have contributed to what he believes is a synergy for the brand, and that has created momentum for Nosler products.
The company also makes bullets for ammunition makers, and further has developed a new bullet series called the E-Tip that is lead-free. Those projectiles are getting lots of attention from shooters who may have to hunt in areas where lead is banned.
Chris Hodgdon, with Hodgdon Powder, acknowledged that the rush to purchase reloading propellants is itself “propelled” by “the fear factor.”
“There are rumors that are not true,” he stressed. “Is the government requiring gun powder to expire in a few years? No. Is there going to be a general tax of 300 to 500% on ammunition components? That is not true.”
He said these and similar rumors are driving at least some of the sales, and that people are buying in bulk when they shouldn’t be.
“Don’t buy it if you don’t need it,” he said.
Essentially, hoarding reloading components is at least partly responsible for the tight supply.
“Right now,” he acknowledged, “there is no end (to the rush) in sight. We’re working one-and-a-half shifts, six days a week.”
Perhaps Kelly Walton with MKS Supply, which markets Hi-Point and Charter Arms firearms, summed it up.
“Every nut, bolt and screw, we’re selling every one we make,” he said. “People are buying …before it’s an Obamanation.”
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