FIREARMS enthusiasts across the United States are stocking up on semi-automatic rifles in anticipation of tighter gun control measures, after president Barack Obama demanded “real action, right now” following last Friday’s school shootings.
A spike in US gun sales is common after a mass shooting, but the latest rampage has generated record sales in some states, particularly of assault weapons similar to the AR-15 rifle the gunman used to kill 26 people, including 20 children aged six and seven, at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The funerals of a further six victims were held yesterday.
Colorado set a single-day record for gun background check requests the day after the shootings, while Nevada saw more checks in the two days that followed than any other weekend this year. Records were also set in Tennessee, California and Virginia, among others.
Some gun shop owners stopped selling their remaining stock of assault weapons, anticipating only more interest and value after President Obama instructed his administration to create concrete proposals to reduce gun violence that he could give to Congress by January.
Robert Akers, a South Dakota gun seller who specialises in military-style weapons, said the rush of customers had transformed his Rapid Fire Firearms store into a “madhouse” and that he was not actively selling the guns and has turned off his phone. “The price is only going to go up higher,” he said.
There has also been an unusual increase in sales for armoured backpacks designed to shield children caught in shootings, according to three companies that make them.
The armour inserts fit into the back panel of a child’s backpack and sell for up to $400 (£245). It is designed to stop bullets from handguns, not assault weapons such as the one used in last Friday’s shooting. The makers say that, while they don’t guarantee children won’t be killed, they could be useful as shields.
Some experts, however, say sending children to school in armoured backpacks is not a healthy response to fear. Anne Marie Albano, psychiatry director at Columbia University’s Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders, said parents should convey calmness, not anxiety.
“This is not serving to keep children safe,” she said. “This is serving to increase their fear and their suspicion of their peers.”
Kerry Clark, president of Backpackshield.com, of Texas, began making the backpacks after the deadly mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007. Prior to Friday’s shooting, he said, the company would sometimes go an entire month and just sell one. But he said he sold 15 on Wednesday. “It’s the busiest I’ve seen it in my life,” he said.
Bullet Blocker, a firm that sells the backpack armour, said recent sales had been substantially greater than normal.
Austin Cook, of Hoover Tactical Firearms in Alabama, said the spike in sales had been so intense that background checks that typically take five minutes were now taking up to an hour.
He said about 50 people were waiting for his store to open the morning after the shootings, and that he’s since sold nearly all of his assault weapons. Now, he’s trying to find more distributors.
Aaron Byrd, co-owner of Patriot Shooting Sports in North Carolina, said he had sold out of AR-15 rifles. “People are worried the government’s going to ban semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, so they’ve been coming in looking for those,” he said.