YORK, Pa. — Some local gun shops expect to see a surge in sales that began in 2008 to continue – and probably spike – during President Barack Obama’s second term.
But this year, it’s not just any item that is catching the eye of those exercising their right to bear arms.
Some local dealers say civilian assault weapon sales are on the rise.
In 2008, Obama campaigned in favor of reinstating the Clinton-era assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.
While he avoided the issue during his first term, the president said in an Oct. 16 debate against challenger Mitt Romney that he would consider reintroducing the ban on civilian purchases of military-style, semi-automatic firearms.
It’s a thought some folks are taking seriously, said Scott Morris, owner of Freedom Armory in Springfield Township.
“Most people feel that because he’s not able to be re-elected, he’s going to be more anti-gun,” Morris said. “He’s not worried about alienating the gun vote.”
Morris said he expects to see a 25 percent to 50 percent increase in sales this year.
The same thing happened before Y2K. And again after Sept. 11. And yet again when Obama was elected in 2008.
While national events can make a mark, the political effects on the gun business are a “never-ending repeated story” that Morris said he has seen before, “but this time it’s more ominous.”
And while he appreciates moving merchandise, the explosive surge in sales, he said, isn’t conducive to running a day-to-day business.
“The majority of people I know in this industry really hate this,” Morris said. “You can’t stock rationally. When you run out of a product, you can’t sell air. Everything evaporates off the shelves. Manufacturers can’t make enough.”
Bob Kefauver, chairman of the Democratic Party of York County, doesn’t doubt the increase in sales.
He attributes it to “dishonest propaganda” distributed by pro-gun lobbies.
“They perpetuate an environment of fear,” Kefauver said. “They do that to drive up their own fundraising efforts.”
He cited two pieces of legislation signed by Obama in 2009. One allows people to carry concealed loaded guns in the country’s national parks.
Another allows people to carry guns in checked luggage on Amtrak trains.
“It’s important to note here that there’s been no effort whatsoever by the White House to limit gun sales,” he said.
Still, stores like Layman’s Gun Shop in Lower Windsor Township are feeling people’s anxiety.
Manager Tony Chalfant said he’s sold more assault weapons and personal protection guns than hunting guns in recent months.
“That has changed over the years,” he said. “Everybody views an assault weapon as something different. An example would be AR-15 style is a semi-automatic. You can’t hunt with one.”
An AR-15 is one of the gun models that suspect James Holmes allegedly used in the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre earlier this year. Legally, its only real purpose in Pennsylvania is for target shooting – a hobby Chalfant says is also gaining popularity.
“It started with politics,” he said. “Now, so many people have bought them or friends of theirs have bought them. All the gun clubs have a very long wait. Some are two and three years just to be a member.”
At the Jefferson Sportsmen’s Association in Codorus Township, “the list has gotten a little bit longer in the last year,” said treasurer Bob Henry.
But he isn’t sure the surge has anything to do with politics.
“I think there’s been a number of gun clubs in Maryland that have closed down,” he said. “We’re so close to the Maryland line. Those people are looking for places to shoot, and they come here.”
Members have access to amenities including a 10-yard pistol and 300-yard rifle range. Shooters at the ranges can’t have more than five rounds in a clip.
“I think there’s some folks that feel that they have to load up on guns and ammunition,” Henry said. “Some people are doing that. We consider ourselves to be a sporting club … We don’t see a lot of that, but we do have people who bring their AK-47s out to shoot.”
Wayne Shuler of Deer Valley Sporting Goods in West Manchester Township said he doesn’t stock the assault guns that many are seeking.
“Assault guns seem to be what’s selling at gun shows and other shops,” he said. “If anybody knows what they want, I’ll order them in.”
It’s a safety thing. He doesn’t want them to fall into the wrong hands.
“People have asked about them, but people want to see them and play with them,” he said. “They want to handle them.”
He hasn’t seen a “dramatic surge” in sales, he said, attributing it to the poor economy. Prices for a basic self-defense gun – a revolver – start around $300.
“People get nervous and jump to conclusions. That can spur a reaction. Emotions run high,” Shuler said. “There are people leaning toward a handgun for personal protection, but a lot of people are still unemployed.”
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks background checks performed for potential gun buyers across the United States.
Such checks are considered a leading indicator to predict future firearm sales.
In October, the checks increased 18.4 percent, according to the FBI.
After President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008, the FBI said it conducted 12.7 million checks compared to 11.2 million the year before. That’s an increase of 13.4 percent.
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