It’s been more than six months since I last went to our local gun show. It’s hard to argue that I don’t already have all the guns I need. If I go to another show it should probably be to sell some of the extras. But after hearing rumors about panic buying in anticipation of a feared nationwide gun grab under the new Democratic administration, I thought I should go and see how things looked on the front lines of the battle to preserve gun rights.
Supposedly ammunition demand is so high that major retailers have had to stop taking orders until supplies are replenished, and certain calibers of ammunition and some high demand firearms and equipment are rising rapidly in price or are very hard to find. This problem began with a shortage of popular ammunition sizes like .223 caliber and 7.62mm which are used in many assault rifles in use by the military in the Middle East. With them expending over a billion cartridges a year, domestic prices have risen and availability has been uneven. Then, coinciding with the Obama victory in last week’s election, gun and ammunition sales began to surge nationwide. Fear of civil unrest because of problems in the economy may have been a contributing factor, but many media sources are claiming that a mood of desperation has seized the gun owning population and that many are convinced that certain types of guns or perhaps even any firearms traceable through secret records of background checks, are in imminent danger of being seized by the government in just a few months.
So I went to our local third-weekend gun show to see how bad things really are.
The first thing which struck me when I arrived was that the very large parking lot was filled to overflowing, something I’d never seen before. People were parking on the street and there was a line out of the parking lot entrance which was blocking traffic. My guess would be that this represented about a 25% increase in attendance, and that was reflected by a similarly large crowd jamming the aisles inside the show.
While I cruised looking for a parking space I noticed something else unusual. Several people in the parking lot were selling guns out of the backs of their cars — one of them was selling them from his motorized wheelchair. They were carrying signs and I suspect that the signs got them kicked out of the gun show itself. I’m also pretty sure that selling guns out of your trunk in a gun show parking lot violates at least a couple of state laws, but the one fellow I talked to had already sold at least a couple of his guns and no one was bothering him about it.
The first thing I discovered inside the show is that the ammunition shortage appears to be real. The ammo vendors were all low on stock, especially on any kind of round which could be used in an automatic rifle, even those which are used primarily for hunting. 7.62mm and the similar .223 cartridges were hard to find, as were other popular cartridges like 30-06 which is a favorite among hunters, possibly a result of this being the second week of deer season. The most reasonably priced ammo vendor had maybe a quarter of the stock he usually brought with him. Ammo prices were also up substantially, close to a 100% increase from the previous month for the most popular sizes according to regulars I talked to. I know that the 30-06 cartridges I bought at $14 a box earlier int he year were now $27 a box.
There were a lot of people at the show and they were there to buy guns, even if they wouldn’t have much to shoot out of them. In particular, large-clip automatic handguns and military-style automatic rifles were selling well, choices which do suggest a concern about gun bans or seizures. Those are the types of guns which have been targeted before and are likely to be the first targets of future bans or seizures. Particularly notable was the complete absence of any stock of the very popular and relatively inexpensive AK-47 assault rifles, which used to be widely available in semi-automatic variations which are fairly easily restored to full automatic function. Other popular assault rifles were also getting scarce, including the older and collectible models.
What really caught my eye were the huge lines of people waiting at a couple of booths. It turned out that these lines were made up entirely of people who were building their own fully-automatic AR-15 assault rifles from parts and were waiting in line to get the one restricted piece of hardware, the lower receiver. Prices of these vital parts have doubled in the last few weeks, and people were willing to wait over two hours in line and file a registration with the ATF so they could pay $320 for a part which was available for $150 before the election, but is now retailing at almost $400 elsewhere. For those who aren’t familiar with firearms, you can’t hunt with an AR-15. It’s basically the same weapon as the M-16 used by US forces in Vietnam and it’s really only good for maiming and wounding human beings. People wanted them, but they were patient and they were orderly. They were willing to put up with a hassle and pay an inflated price, but they weren’t panicked yet.
I also noticed that the various anti-government, pro-gun groups were out in more force than usual. The Ron Paul supporters, John Birchers, Alex Jones conspiracy fanatics, survivalist and nativist element was as strong as I’ve ever seen it. Perhaps more interesting, there was a notable rise in booths for gun clubs, firing ranges and gun training groups. Most interesting among the groups was the booth for Students for Concealed Carry who are lobbying to get concealed carry laws extended to university campuses. Perhaps a futile proposition, because one of the concerns about the incomming administration is a movement on the left to pass a federal ban on concealed carry, despite the jurisdictional and constitutional problems that would raise.
The mood at the gun show was not as desperate as I had expected, but there were a lot of people there who didn’t have the look of the true gun nut and were wearing regular street clothes and not draped in military surplus or cowboy regalia. They looked like gun show first-timers who were there because they had serious concerns about the future of their gun rights and personal liberties. Those I spoke to did not seem particularly focused on Obama or some sort of revolutionary change in government. More of their concern seemed focused on Nancy Pelosi and legislative radicals who have been talking more openly about gun right restriction in the last few months.
As more people from the far left move into positions of power and pro-gun Democrats like Howard Dean are pushed out by ideological purists, the level of discontent is bound to rise. A lot of these folks were pretty unhappy about the Bush administration and the Patriot Act and Real ID and other assaults on civil liberty. With the Democrats in power they see things going from bad to worse with a shift in emphasis from potential rights violations to direct and specific forms of oppression. Rahm Emanuel talking about a domestic security police force and national mandatory service and with the likelihood of tax increases in a time of economic privation, people are feeling very insecure and very threatened.
So they’re buying guns and stocking up on ammo, because the future is uncertain and they see too many people with bad intent arrayed against them, and the government is the bogeyman and he’s only getting bigger and scarier and getting ready to gobble us all up. But they’re not really in a panic and they’re not domestic terrorists, they’re just hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. The great thing about America is that it’s their absolute right to arm themselves to the teeth against a worst-case scenario, and so long as they don’t harm anyone else in the process, it’s just a celebration of the freedom we all have — at least for now.