posted on July 29, 2008 08:29
Some buyers concerned that the next administration could tighten gun regulations.
By Simmi Aujla
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Austin-area firearms dealers may have the Democrats to thank for brisk sales this summer.
The prospect that the next presidential administration might favor new gun-control laws has gun enthusiasts bringing dollars and concerns to local firearms stores ahead of the November election.
Some Central Texans have been talking about laws from the 1990s — passed under a Democratic president and Congress — that restricted semiautomatic rifles, governed the sale of high-capacity magazines and mandated waiting periods before customers could receive handguns. Their worries have translated into higher sales at local gun stores, store owners say.
"I don't care if it's the iPod, the market wants what it thinks is limited and restricted," said Alice Tripp, legislative director of the Texas State Rifle Association. "If it's something you've been thinking about owning, you're going to go to some trouble, some expense to get it while it's still out there."
Before the 1994 federal assault weapons ban took effect, buyers sought to purchase the rifles and magazines that would soon be illegal to buy in stores, leading to limited supply and higher prices, Tripp said.
This summer, sales at McBride's Guns in Austin are 10 percent higher, compared with the same time last year, said store owner Joe McBride.
"Our regular client base is very concerned about anti-gun legislation if the wrong people get elected," McBride said, adding "what they see as the wrong people."
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama supports reinstating the assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, said spokeswoman Shannon Gilson. Obama also supports creation of a law that would require all sellers at gun shows to run background checks on their customers, she said. Currently, unlicensed individuals selling firearms at shows are not required to run background checks. Those sellers allow criminals to purchase guns without going through the background checks, Gilson said.
Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, also supports requiring unlicensed sellers to conduct background checks, though he doesn't support restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, according to his Web site.
Keith Hetz, who sometimes helps a friend sell firearms at the Saxet Gun Show at the Crockett Center, said he worries about new laws limiting how many firearms people can own or how much ammunition they can buy. In the past year, Hetz said he has stocked up on ammunition and bought two handguns and a shotgun.
On the assault weapons ban, he said: "Just because it's retired doesn't mean it can't be brought back."
Hetz added that he was especially concerned about any restrictions on guns and ammunition because the deteriorating economy means increased threats to people's property, and firearms can help customers protect themselves.
Karen Ziegler, co-owner of Red's Indoor Range in Oak Hill, which also sells firearms, said concern about a waiting period to purchase a firearm has motivated customers in the past.
In addition to concern about the next administration, other factors are fueling gun sales at Red's, Ziegler said. Tax rebate checks sent out beginning in May helped some customers buy guns they'd already been considering, she said.
AJC Sports Inc., which is based in Clute and sells firearms at gun shows in Austin, has seen strong sales for more than a year, said Alan Jones, the company's president. About mid-February every year, Jones said, sales drop off until the store gets busier in August, right before hunting season. But in February 2007, sales didn't go down as usual, he said, and sales have increased 60 percent since then.
A year ago, Jones said, consumers were worried because they thought Sen. Hillary Clinton would clinch the Democratic nomination and, if elected, might push for stricter gun laws. And if gun-control legislation is passed next year, there will be another frenzy to purchase firearms before any laws take effect, he said.
But personal budgets could affect sales more than political considerations.
At the Gun Store in Cedar Park, manager Dan Perez said sales this summer have been slightly lower than last summer's. He ascribed the decrease to consumers having less disposable income because of the troubled economy.
Also, a recent Supreme Court decision seemed to give gun owners some peace of mind concerning future legislation. Several customers interviewed at Tex Guns on Manchaca Road and Cabela's in Buda cited the June decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller case — the court held that the Second Amendment provides individuals with the right to own firearms — as a reason they weren't worried about who takes the White House in November. In the case, the Court ruled that it was illegal for the District of Columbia to ban guns.
At Tex Guns, customer Ray Curtis said the court's decision, which he called "a real step forward," will make it difficult to keep restrictive legislation on the books. Plus, he added, Congress has bigger problems to tackle next year, such as the economy, health care and the war in Iraq.
Still, Hetz said he's not certain that any constitutional rights will be protected next year.
"I wouldn't trust McCain to do anything good with America," he said. "I wouldn't trust Obama to, either."
All licensed sellers must have instant background checks conducted on their customers. Not every background check results in a sale because some customers are not approved.
Background checks in April, May and June 2008 2,642,476
Background checks in April, May and June 2007 2,432,143
Background checks in April, May and June 2008 179, 805
Background checks in April, May and June 2007 161,284
Increase 11.5 percent
Checks in Texas
The number of checks has increased every year in Texas since 2000.
From 2005 to 2006 4.3 percent
From 2006 to 2007 1.7 percent
From 2007 to 2008 9.2 percent *
* Jan. 1 to June 30