Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Observations on working in a gun store...

As you might know I work part-time (actually just 8½ hours a week) at a local gun shop. It doesn't pay much at all, you might put it down to charity if the place was tax exempt! One thing for certain, it is interesting. One gets to see and speak first hand with many different folks on the subject of guns and hunting.

The current shortages, aka the "Obamanation Buying Spree" (OBS) is one such topic. MOST people buying AR-15s and similar EBRs (Evil Black Rifles) are first time buyers of such and are doing so ONLY because of the election. Most of those are men. Women who are on the OBS are buying pistols or rifles for their granddaughters. Men AND women have come in buying ammo but that has really trickled off. The primary motivation was supposed taxes. Now, however, ammo buyers are shooters who want to get ammo before others buy out the store OR people who think the ammo simply won't be available. Interestingly, .380 ACP (aka 9mm Corto/Short) ammo is harder to find than even .223/5.56mm and .308 Winchester. Our shop is now able to keep EBRs in stock for a bit, usually a week. Ruger LCPs and Keltec P3ATs go to the waiting list! I heard a judge say he's signed twice as many CHPs (concealed handgun permits) as before the election. But there is also a continuing shortage of reloading supplies...

Yep, all sorts of things. I feel vindicated in my prognostication of January 2008. While the initial shortage was in primers, it now is in powders as well. Least available primers are the small rifle magnums (to reload .223/5.56), large pistol, large rifle, and small pistol magnum. Other than the Federal Gold Medal primers, the match primers and small pistol have been fairly available. Everything else is iffy. Primers have taken a real hit with customers citing rumors of taxes, "arsenal" laws, primer muddling (such as "time sensitive" priming mixtures), and government interference in production as the reasons they are hoarding.

One needs powders, too! First to be sold out and have orders go unfilled was W748 and Varget (again, very popular for the .223/5.56) but now most popular powders are sold as soon as they come in, Unique, H110/W296, H or IMR 4350, IMR 3031, etc. Valid "substitutes" are then taken.

Of course, everyone who doesn't already have them needs dies. As one might expect, dies for the .223/5.56, .308, .40 S&W, 9mm Parabellum have been intermittently difficult to get.

I left brass (cartridge cases) for last for a reason. Recently there was a real kerfuffle with DOD's (the Department of Defense) property disposal of fired brass. Many remanufacturers as well as reloaders buy fired 9mm, 5.56mm and 7.62mm NATO brass from the DOD or through resellers. Georgia Arms apparently started this by publishing a letter they received from DOD stating that in future all brass would be demilled, i.e. rendered unusable for reloading before being sold for scrap. That policy, whether or not it was misinterpreted by some middle manager, has been reversed for the small arms cases (.50 BMG and smaller). The DOD (and other Federal agencies) use large amounts of ammunition for training purposes and this policy could have cut ammunition availability to civilians (private and police departments) by as much as one-third! However, I need to make this clear, THAT POLICY HAS BEEN REVERSED!

That hasn't stopped brass being sometimes difficult to get. This is particularly true for the "seasonal" production items, i.e. those that are only made in annual or bi-annual production runs. As one might expect, .223/5.56 and .308 Win brass have been in shortage and very noticeably so. Also noticed as hard to find/get are 10mm Auto, .41 Magnum, .44 Special, .45 Colt, .357 Maximum (see a trend here, seasonal production) and real rarities such as the .45-75 Winchester. Brass production has wisely been concentrated on the big sellers, .223/5.56 and .308 Win.

Of course, people are hoarding .22 LR and other rimfire cartridges, too. Regional, sometimes shortages have been reported. I've found it hard to get Winchester's .22 LR PowerPoint. Most of these shortages have occurred in the bargain brands as many are trying to put back the plinking ammo. Another thing that has driven this hoarding has been the threat of lead bans in various states. Based on some ridiculous interpretations of a CDC study and/or pseudo-science, the California ban has made such a thing seem very possible and helped to drive sales.

In general the shortages are NOT the fault of the dealers or distributors. These folks MUST have product and SELL it in order to make a living (and pay their employees). The shortages are due to the extreme demand and manufacturers (who are often working around the clock to attempt to meet demand) reluctant to expand production facilities because they know there will be a "bust" later. They know that either: fears will abate and the glut will cut sales drastically; the economic situation will get so bad there will be no money to support continued sales; the government will indeed drastically alter/affect legal sales of their products. While some dealers seem to be raising prices, most aren't doing so drastically and apparently even the AR-15 manufacturers have only raised wholesale prices $100 or so. That is hardly price gouging.

In handling a portion of these gun sales since the first of December, I've personally entered data for Virginia's version of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). About one-half to one-third of these are delayed. I've never had one that I've done that has been denied. Of the 50 or so I've input, most who were delayed expected it. Two of them KNEW they would be delayed because of relatives who committed violent criminal acts. Others were apparently delayed because of their immigration status, DUIs, or very common names (i.e. similar to John Smith). Delays can vary from 30 minutes to several hours. There doesn't seem to be any attempt to delay purchases to harass buyers.

We've seen some neat guns for certain. To me, these aren't necessarily the expensive ones. I was able to finally acquire a Colt Commander because I worked there and walked in to work immediately after the gun was purchased. That's a benefit! It is also fun to watch and sometimes help the resident gunsmith. Lots of my friends who I wouldn't see often otherwise come through the shop (I KNEW there was a reason I liked those guys!). I've heard a lot of stories as well from those who struggle to kill one deer a year to farmers who cull hundreds a year (and yes, I do wish I could get these guys together) or have great hunts all around the country. We have customers who collect and those who are constantly trading. One other thing one notices from behind the counter is that gun buyers/owners are truly representative of the community. Rich & "poor", educated & barely literate, young & old, male & female, community leaders & "not". I have seen a lot of police officers, firemen, judges, and businessmen as well as farmers.

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