Statesman Staff Writer
When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 it caused a spike in gun and ammunition sales in the Bootheel because he was seen as backing gun control laws. That spike was minor compared to the current frenzy with residents in Stoddard County buying up guns and ammunition faster than retailers can stock it. Obama's proposed ban of assault weapons and numerous other controls on the purchase of guns in the cause of the run on local gun dealers.
"It is worse now than it has ever been," says Jeff Dukes, owner of The Gun Shop in Dexter. "The demand for guns and especially ammunition is intense."
Dukes says he can't keep certain items in stock. Demand for .223 caliber ammunition used for some AR assault weapons and .22 caliber and 9 mm ammo is more than can be met by The Gun Shop. High demand weapons include the AR-15, semi-automatic handguns and revolvers has also spiked.
The AR-15 is impossible to stock, according to Dukes.
"If I could get it, I could sell it," comments Dukes. He says he was told by the manufacturer that it would be one year before he could fill any orders for the rifle. He says an order usually takes six to eight months to fill.
Dukes believes that it is a combination of "panic" by the public over proposed gun laws and those that are simply hoarding in an effort to make higher profits as demand soars. He says a recent dealers were told at a recent manufacturing convention in Las Vegas, Nev., that it would be six to eight months before business returns to normal after the "panic" buying ends. He adds that many manufacturers are not taking any orders from new dealers.
"They are filling the orders of established dealers only," says Dukes.
The owner of Weaver's Gun Shop in Bloomfield also said that he can't meet the demand for ammunition, particularly for .223 and .22 caliber rimfires. He said he has had to ration the sales of ammunition to three boxes per customer.
"The sale of this ammunition has gone though the roof," Weaver says.
Weaver's does not sell guns. Their business is primarily as a gunsmith, but they do sell ammunition. They would sell more if they could get it. The current buying spree is also taking a toll on supplies of components for reloading ammunition, according to Weaver. The business is finding it difficult to keep primers, powder and bulletts in stock.
Weaver says there are some who are raising their prices in the face of such high demand.
"I'm still selling at invoice price," he says. "I don't believe in stealing from people."
Mark Jacques, owner of American Outdoors in Dexter, says he could sell all the pistol ammunition and .223 caliber he could get his hands on, but he can't get it. He said there has been a strong surge in sales of certain guns as well. His inventory has been depleted on certain guns, including pistols, and he simply can't get more to replace the stock.
Dukes believes that the rush to enact gun laws is irrational. He cites the almost 300 people who were killed in a nightclub fire in Brazil as a terrible tragedy that could also illicit a strong reaction.
"Do you think they are going to ban nightclubs there?" he asks.
The huge demand is having an impact on national retail chains who are finding it hard to maintain stock. Guns and ammo stock at these stores is dwindling as evidenced by a visit from a potential customer.
President Barack Obama urged a reluctant Congress in recent days to require background checks for all gun sales and ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines during an emotion-laden plea to curb gun violence in America.
The president's sweeping, $500 million plan, came one month after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., and marks the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in nearly two decades. But his proposals, most of which are opposed by the National Rifle Association, face a doubtful future in a divided Congress where Republicans control the House.
Assault rifles and handguns have been popular with buyers, retailers said.
"We had a gentleman who came in and bought $4,000 worth of ammo yesterday," said Jim Dumey, a manager of Buchheit's in Jackson.
Currently, there is no limit on the amount of ammunition an individual may purchase.
Rowdy Enderle, manager of Shooter's Gun Shop in Cape Girardeau, said the "crazy rhetoric coming from our politicians" is what is drawing customers.
"They never ban a gun, they only ban the future sale of it. They can pass all the bans they want, but it will never stop any of those school shootings because there are already 300 million guns out there in the open and they'll never go and take those guns away," Enderle said.
Jeff Schott was one of about 25 people looking at guns at Shooter's last week. He has been concerned about the possibility of stricter gun laws since Obama was re-elected in November. Schott doubts what the president is proposing would pass in Congress, but he fears his administration will use regulatory agencies, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to "regulate around the Constitution."
Retailers said this week's sales are unprecedented.
A wall normally stocked with assault rifles at Shooter's is looking pretty bare.
Enderle said business is up about 300 percent compared to the same time last year.
"When they're gone, I won't be able to get any more," Enderle said. "Guns were already in short supply as it was. It's been that way for a couple years now. This run on guns made it that much worse."
Dumey at Buchheit said even after trying different dealers, he has not been able to restock.
"Just about everybody is in the same boat. These things are getting bought up pretty quick," he said.
Dick's, one of the largest sporting goods retailers in the U.S., suspended the sale of "modern sporting rifles" in all of its stores after the Sandy Hook shooting. Wal-Mart stopped selling the Bushmaster semi-automatic weapon the shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, used to shoot his mostly young victims multiple times.
"They might suspend them until this blows over, but when they do start selling them again, prices may be higher in the future," Dumey said. "We'll continue selling what we have at a normal price."
Price increases will be hard on customers' budgets, said Enderle, who worries if his store will even be in business a few years down the road.
"The sport was already getting too expensive for most of my clientele. They're just regular, everyday guys," he said.
Prices for assault rifles top $1,000. Handgun prices range from $300 to $1,000.
Across the U.S., demand for armored backpacks for children is increasing as worried parents try to protect their children. And in some states, records are being set for numbers of background checks for weapons.
Melissa Miller of The Southeast Missourian contributed to this story.