US firearm sales have sky-rocketed since the Newtown school massacre, as debate over gun control rages and enthusiasts fear certain assault weapons and high-capacity magazines could be banned.
President Barack Obama basically has put gun enthusiasts on warning, Larry Hyatt, owner of a gun shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, told AFP, referring to efforts to outlaw some firearms in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
A semi-automatic Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle was used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in which a disturbed local young man shot dead 20 young children, six adults and his mother before taking his own life.
“Right after it, anti-guns (activists) started talking. The president said he wanted quick action, and so that is going to fuel the buying frenzy, and it is,” Hyatt said, describing the rush as largely “politically motivated.”
“We have been in business for 50 years, and we have seen (fear-based buying) before,” Hyatt said. “But this is more intense because the president got in the media and basically said, ‘if you want a gun, you better get it now.'”
That means bigger business for an already huge industry: the gun and ammunition manufacturing industry in the United States groups about 300 companies with combined yearly sales estimated at around $7 billion.
Florida, the most heavily armed state, rocketed this week to a new record of active carry permits — over one million — a state government spokesman told AFP. Florida has 19 million people.
“To shed some more light on the magazine situation at present, it really has been unprecedented in the last five days,” Pete Brownell, whose company is the world’s largest supplier of firearm supplies, posted on a guns forum.
Brownell said the company had seen the average demand for over three-and-a-half years’ worth of PMAGs (polymer magazines) fly off the shelves in just 72 hours.
“We’re working like crazy to get these orders to you as quickly as possible,” Brownell added.
Newspapers in rural areas around the country also reported a roaring pre-Christmas trade in guns and magazines, especially at gun shows, long considered a loophole by gun control activists as they often don’t require buyers to undergo any background checks.
There were an estimated 310 million non-military firearms in the United States in 2009, roughly one per citizen, and people in America are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than someone in another developed country.
The United States has suffered an explosion of gun violence over the last three decades including 62 mass shooting incidents since 1982. The vast majority of weapons used have been semi-automatic handguns and rifles obtained legally by the killers.
The December 14 bloodshed in Newtown, the latest in a string of mass shootings in the United States, has reopened a national debate on the country’s gun laws, which are far more lax than in most other developed nations.
Obama said he would support a new bill to ban assault rifles and put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a panel looking at a wide range of other measures, from school security to mental health.
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein has pledged to introduce a bill on January 3 that would ban at least 100 military-style semi-automatic assault weapons, and would curb the transfer, importation and the possession of such arms.
Monday saw no let-up in shooting incidents around the country.
Two firefighters were shot dead and another two wounded responding to a blaze set as an apparent trap in New York state, and a police officer and a bystander were killed in Texas by a driver who refused to stop for a traffic violation.