Start with a president who concerns gun-rights advocates and throw in a pending state bill that would require records be kept for handgun ammunition sales, and it’s easy to understand why gun shops are doing a brisk business.
“Yes, we are benefiting because of an individual I didn’t vote for, nor did anybody I know vote for. It is kind of ironic, isn’t it?” Rich Howell, general manager of Olde West Gun & Loan, said of President Barack Obama’s impact on his business.
Guns and ammunition sales at Howell’s shop in Redding jumped about 50 percent in the first three months of 2009 compared with 2008.
The fevered sale pace has cooled. But business could pick up again as Assembly Bill 962, a bill that directs all California handgun ammunition vendors to keep records of ammunition sales and make them available to law enforcement, moves through the Legislature.
Authored by Assemblyman Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, the bill also would require all handgun ammunition sales to be conducted face-to-face and vendors to be licensed by the Department of Justice.
The Assembly approved the bill 42-31 on June 3. It’s moved to the Senate Public Safety Committee for a hearing later this summer.
“I’m not saying AB 962 and some other aggregate bills simmering in Sacramento don’t put fuel to the fire. They do to a certain extent,” Howell said. “But on the other hand, we have seen a tremendous increase in ammunition sales and gun sales since after the election, and really after the first of the year it took off.”
The state reported that 9,512 guns were sold in Shasta County in 2008, a 3.3 percent increase from the 9,211 that were sold in 2007.
There were 425,244 guns sold in California in 2008, up from 370,628 in 2007, state statistics show.
Shasta County and state gun sales statistics for 2009 weren’t available.
Shopping for handgun ammunition Wednesday at Olde West Gun & Loan, Rene Raak of Douglas City lamented about the difficulty she’s had finding ammunition. Raak had not heard of AB 962.
“Everybody seems to want to grab whatever comes into the gun shop here,” Raak said. “It’s been hard to find even regular bullets like .357 (caliber) – we have been shooting .38s instead. Gosh, it’s harder to find even find .22s. Seems like everybody is buying them off the shelves, like they’re afraid they are not going to be there tomorrow.”
De Leon cites a 2006 RAND study that shows more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition were sold to criminals in a two-month period. Extrapolated statewide, that would mean that more than 500,000 rounds are sold to criminals in gun shops in California every year.
Gun store owners like Patrick Jones of Jones’ Fort in Redding don’t buy it. The bill is simply another infringement on their rights to legally own and use a firearm, Jones said.
“This won’t affect the criminal because they’re not buying guns from us and they don’t buy ammunition from us,” said Jones, who recently went to Sacramento to lobby against AB 962.
What’s happening in California is playing out across the country as concerns grow that the Obama administration will enact new gun-control measures.
“The combined increase in demand for firearms and ammunition is clear and largely being driven by the political concerns of gun owners,” Ted Novin, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said by e-mail from Newtown, Conn.
Ironically, the U.S. House of Representatives in May passed a measure that expanded gun rights, allowing concealed, loaded firearms to be carried in national parks.
The proposal passed 279-147, with overwhelming Republican support and a significant number of Democrats backing the measure.
Novin’s group reported that FBI criminal background checks were up 15.4 percent in May 2009 over May 2008. Federal law requires individuals who purchase firearms from a licensed dealer to get a background check. The checks serve as a gauge of actual sales, Novin said.
Last month’s increase in background checks follows a 30.3 percent increase in April, a 29.2 percent gain in March, and jumps of 23 percent in February and 28 percent in January, the National Shooting Sports Foundation said.
Novin said the demand for ammunition extends across caliber lines, and manufacturers are working at full capacity. Anecdotal evidence suggests those efforts are working and supply is beginning to catch up with demand, Novin added.
Reporter David Benda can be reached at 225-8219 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.