While it hasn’t gone into full Macy’s basement sale mode yet, the latest round of panic buying of firearms has commenced, just as we move into the final phase of the 2016 election cycle.
Kicked off by the recent slaying of 49 people and the wounding of another 53 at the hands of a maniacal Islamic terrorist in a Florida nightclub, the anti-gun movement wasted no time in calling for legislation which would curtail civil rights and outlaw certain types of firearms and accessories. President Obama went so far as to call for the reintroduction of the so-called Assault Weapons Ban which this Nation suffered under from 1994 until 2004. The presumptive Democrat candidate for the office also shares this goal.
It looks like a rough year for gun owners.
While the mainstream media likes to call this class of firearms “assault weapons,” I refer to them by the term we use in industry: modern sporting rifles. It’s an important distinction because the former is used to vilify the gun in order to make it easier to ban. The latter describes how they are seen by those who actually own and use them.
Legislation targeting these types of firearms is very broad sweeping and includes many types, but most buyers will concentrate in the AR-15 or one of its clones due to the gun’s popularity and availability of parts for customization. So, unless you are a specialist retailer, keep this in mind.
As I write this in June, the run so far has been on weapons that would be regulated under a new version of the Assault Weapons Ban in addition to magazines and ammunition for those firearms. Some customers are purchasing in bulk; speculators who hope to cash in on short supply and rising prices as we saw in earlier panics.
Many are concentrating on lower receivers for AR-15-style rifles as they are inexpensive and considered by the BATFE to be a firearm because they bear the serial number. These can be built into full firearms later. Other buyers are just trying to get out ahead of the crowd, preparing for the threat of future firearms prohibitions.
There’s no full on panic yet, but we’re seeing a slow build and I expect it to continue at least through January of 2017 when we’ll see the inauguration of a new president. It will become a self-licking ice cream cone as consumers fear shortages and make purchases which further contribute to bare shelves.
During this period, the tactical outfitter may notice periods of lulls in sales as consumers concentrate on purchasing firearms, magazines and ammunition. However, once those stocks are depleted, many will turn to other items such as firearms accessories, prepper supplies, medical items and clothing and individual equipment. There are other customers who already have the firearms they want but will want to stock up on both magazines and ammunition as stocks dwindle.
Many tactical stores sell weapon accessories, including magazines. Since so-called “high capacity” magazines were banned under the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, they are desirable since they are an inexpensive investment for the future. While all magazines aren’t equal in terms of quality, the truth of the matter is that in a panic, they all sell. The savvy consumer will seek out quality and be willing to pay a premium for it.
Magazines in particular are of concern. Everyone will want them, in capacities from 20 to 100 round. Another federal restriction of civilian use of magazines with a capacity in excess of 10 rounds means that what is out on the market is all there is. In 1986, when the ATF closed the Machine Gun Registry, we didn’t have a very good idea of what forever meant and Second Amendment advocates weren’t as organized as they are today. But 30 years on, we now begin to comprehend the concept of forever and don’t want to be without feeding devices for our firearms.
Over the past 20 years, several states have local or state-level restrictions on magazines. These rules have been dealt with in various ways, one of which is the use of repair parts. Many magazine manufacturers offer various repair parts for magazines. These include, bodies, floor plates, magazines and followers. Naturally, one could assemble all of the repair parts into a working magazine.
There are also many accessories on the market which modify existing magazines. These include new floor plates which make it easier to grasp the magazine while other floor plate replacements increase the magazine’s capacity. These items generally also include a replacement spring. There are even modification kits which combine two magazines end-to-end to increase capacity so that 3-gun competitors won’t lose time changing magazines.
Earlier I mentioned that many would purchase lower receivers. During panics, they have tended to go up in price as much as 500 percent in a matter of months as supplies for complete rifles dry up. But they’re of no use until they’re built up into a full configuration.
Still others will buy a firearm just to have one, intent on customizing it after the purchase. These are both opportunities.
Parts, particularly those items referred to as “furniture” like handguards, pistol grips and stocks will be increasingly in demand. This also offers ample opportunity to cross-sell slings, cleaning kits and storage bags. In many cases, MSR owners will also procure optics, mounts and back up sights.
As shooters become more experienced they will look for load carrying equipment and range appropriate clothing to support their hobby. While some will prefer military surplus or the “operator” look, still others will seek out a lower profile, concentrating on concealed carry use.
Panic buying of firearms is understandably created by the fear of new firearms restrictions. While such conditions are frustrating for merchants who cannot offer the most sought after items, there are other opportunities to be had.
With every new firearm purchased, whether at your establishment or somewhere else, there is an opportunity created to sell a wide variety of accessories.
Eric Graves is the founder of Soldier Systems Daily and is a former Air Force officer.