The empty shelves inside the Chula Vista Gun Store (in mid-February) make it hard to tell the place sells guns at all. Last December, the amplification of the gun-control debate sent buyers rushing to this store to buy out supplies of guns and ammunition. The store’s owner, retired Marine Albert Rodriguez, speaks of major differences in sales “before the tragedy” and “after the tragedy,” and says that in the weeks following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, his sales increased by “a thousand percent.”
People bought up all his AR-15s (a rifle Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut said “has become the madman’s gun of choice”), and the .223 Remington rounds it shoots, because the semi-automatic rifle is under threat of ban in current proposed legislation. But Rodriguez’s customers bought all of his shotguns and handguns as well.
“People are buying stuff like crazy,” Rodriguez says. “They’re buying ammunition. They’re buying everything. They’re stocking up like there’s going to be a war.”
At California Police Equipment on El Cajon Boulevard in City Heights, sales increased at the end of last year as well.
“December was ridiculous,” says Krystal Westcott, the shop’s 25-year old sales associate. “I didn’t even have time to go to the bathroom.”
And, like at the Chula Vista Gun Store, they’re not just buying the AR-15.
“People are buying everything they can get ahold of, not just the actual guns, but the ammunition. If [a customer cannot find] an assault weapon, they go to rifles, and then if they don’t have the rifles in, then they go to the tactical shotguns, and they’re just moving right down the gun-chain,” says owner Chuck Garlow, a former police officer. “They won’t leave the store without something.”
Westcott says that people are purchasing the handguns because of the potential ban on the ten-round capacity.
“Glock has been around, I think, for about 20 years, and this is the first time they’ve ever been back-ordered. Ever,” Westcott says, pointing to a glass case full of handguns. “All these would be grandfathered in as ten-rounds, so you can legally own them if they ever change the law to where the magazines can only hold seven rounds [as is currently the case in New York]. That’s why a lot of people are buying up handguns.”
So, why are the shelves and glass cases full at California Police Equipment but empty at the Chula Vista Gun Store?
“I’m not into the price-gouging. Before the tragedy, what I could buy for $6.50, now I have to pay $14.50,” Rodriguez says. “When I sold my inventory, I sold it at the regular price. To buy the inventory now, I would have to pay double. So I’m just waiting. If somebody comes in desperate enough to pay the overpriced price, I’ll order it for them.”
Rodriguez believes it’s a matter of a few months before the panic dies down and distributor prices go back down to normal.
“I’ve been doing this for 26 years. I saw this happen with the first ban [in 1994], and when Obama got elected, the same thing happened. As soon as it stops being the political thing to do, things will go back to normal,” he says.
At California Police Equipment, the Garlow says, yes, prices have gone up for him, too.
“The distributors of the guns raised their prices, and in a lot of cases, we’re paying retail price instead of the wholesale price, so we’re having to mark our guns up and then add to the retail so we can make some money,” he says. “The Smith and Wesson M&P 15 [handgun] was $700 or $800 around November, December, and it’s gone up to about $1700 right now.”
The higher prices, however, are not deterring him from keeping the shelves stocked with whatever he can find. He even has “a storeful” of the AR-15 in stock, which Westcott says she used to be able to buy, at the low end, for around $500. Before last December, she’d sell it for $750 or so. Now she has to pay the distributor between $1200 and $1500. When I ask Westcott what she sells it for now, she smiles.
“It depends,” she says. “It’s like a Subway sandwich. You can get your cheap Subway sandwich, or you can get ‘the works.’”
While both Garlow and Rodriguez are against proposed gun-control legislation, they have different takes the matter.
“It’s not going to do anything,” Rodriguez says. “I would be the first one to give up my guns if you guarantee me that what happened at the school or what happens in any other place would stop. But it’s not going to happen.”
And Garlow says, “Basically, what Obama has done is open the floodgates to people who do not have guns, never had guns, and never would have had guns, to people that absolutely want guns. They’re not panicking. They’re acting wisely. They believe it’s their right to have guns, and they’re just exercising their constitutional right.”
The two gun-shop owners also have a different perspective on the current flood of first-time gun buyers, many of whom say they want to purchase guns for home defense.
“I tell them the best combination of guns to have is three for home protection,” Garlow explains. “A handgun for inside the house, a shotgun for around the house, and a rifle for in front of the house.”
Rodriguez has a different take.
“I think the people who are really into guns are going to wait, because they know better. It’s the new people who are all of a sudden desperate to have a pistol or a rifle that never even had one in their life,” he says. “Those are the people I’m afraid of, that shouldn’t have guns. They don’t have the training. I [say to] them, ‘Why do you want one? Why now? Go take a class. Go take training. Then come back.’ I don’t agree with everybody having a gun, that’s for sure.”