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Fears of assault weapon ban boost bottom line for Alaska gun and ammo dealers

Ben Anderson
Aaron Jansen illustration

Many national and Alaska gun shops are running low on certain weapons and ammunition, thanks to worries over a possible assault weapons ban and enhanced gun control in the wake of last month’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in the hamlet of Newtown, Conn.

That shooting -- which left 27 people dead, including 20 children -- sparked fierce debate over the role of guns in American society, and left some lawmakers promising change to the nation’s gun laws. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pledged to introduce a bill on the first day of the new Congress that would ban assault weapons.

The rhetoric has since died down a bit, with Politico noting a sharp drop in mentions of gun control in the media since Christmas. But the inventories of gun stores still haven’t bounced back, and one Anchorage gun shop owner thinks that an uncertain climate may give gun manufacturers a reason to pause before they produce weapons that might be banned in the future.

Krisann Farah, owner of Ammo King in Anchorage, said that her inventory had been well picked over by the time the new year rolled around. “If you had come in here a couple of weeks ago, you would have seen a busy, thriving shop,” Farah said on Wednesday. “Now, it’s like a ghost town.”

The likeliest targets of any new gun regulation or ban would be semi-automatic long guns, rifles like the AR-15 or M4 carbine. Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old shooter in the Sandy Hook massacre, used a rifle similar to an AR-15.

That might not be the only kind of weapon subject to a possible ban, though, and the uncertainty has created a rush on numerous weapons and ammunition, said Larry Myers, owner of Freedom’s Armory in Wasilla. “Basically, people are buying anything that would be subject to a ban,” Myers said. “AR-15s, any magazines bigger than 10 rounds, any shotgun that doesn’t look like a hunting shotgun.”

Those high-capacity magazines have been the target of debate, with NBC newscaster David Gregory brandishing a 30-round magazine during an interview with Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association.

Also getting snatched up is the popular .223 ammunition, which can be used in several assault weapons. A quick search at the website for outdoor retailer Sportsman’s Warehouse reveals that all types of .223 ammunition are “temporarily sold out.”

It’s the same in Alaska, said Farah, who noted that Ammo King, an Anchorage retailer, buys its ammunition by the ton -- but still has no .223 ammo left. Those anxious to get their hands on a new weapon or ammunition before any ban goes into effect may be successful at online auction sites, but they could pay dearly. Prices on those sites these days can be at least three times the usual retail price.

“I’ve looked around and tracked a few firearms on the online auction sites and they’re going for many times -- if they’re even available -- they’re going for many times what the normal bids would be,” said Myers.

The story’s the same on the Kenai Peninsula, according to the Redoubt Reporter, which reported emptied inventories at local gun shops and larger retailers.

Restocking that depleted inventory may be tricky, too, because manufacturers are feeling nationwide pressure to resupply gun shops. Both Farah and Myers said they’d fielded calls from outside Alaska.

Farah also said that she’d only been able to speak briefly to two distributors, who couldn’t give her a timeline on when to expect more of the hot-selling weapons.

“They don’t know; we don’t know,” she said.

So if you're in the market for one of these much sought-after weapons, don’t despair. Now’s a good time to sell such weapons and magazines, too, and Farah said she had two AR-15s in the store Tuesday morning that had just come in on consignment.

As for Myers, he may be luckier than many other vendors. He just returned from a three-week vacation, so he missed the buying frenzy surrounding assault rifles and their ammunition. He said he plans to take his inventory to the annual gun show put on by the Wasilla High School hockey booster club Jan. 19-20. 

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com