CRIME
12/18/2012 11:39 am ET

Ammunition Sales Soar Amid Massacres As Big Clip Bans Languish

After every mass killing of recent years, people have called on the government to ban high-capacity gun magazines -- clips holding more than 10 bullets that allow extended firing between reloads.

The calls to ban the sale of these devices came after Jared Loughner shot and wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), and killed six others, using a 33-round magazine in January 2011. Arguments resurfaced after James Holmes was accused of murdering 12 with a 100-round magazine in July.

Now, three days after police said Adam Lanza used a 30-round magazine to kill 27 children and adults in Connecticut, lawmakers and citizens have renewed the demand for a ban.

“In light of yet another horrific shooting tragedy, it is clearer than ever that there is no place in our communities for deadly high-capacity gun magazines and I will keep working to pass my bill to reinstate the ban on them," Sen, Frank Lautenberg, the Democrat from New Jersey and the author of a proposed magazine ban that has languished in Congress for two years, said in a statement on Monday.

"These high-capacity magazines, which were used in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and so many other tragedies, were designed for one purpose only -- to shoot and kill quickly," Lautenberg added.

The .223-caliber bullets that Adam Lanza used in the killing spree were designed to inflict maximum damage, a police official in Newtown, Conn., said on Sunday.

The Freedom Group, a gun manufacturer based in Remington, N.C., is America's oldest and largest manufacturer of firearms and ammunition, according to IBISWorld Inc., an industry analysis group. A spokesperson for the company, which sells more than 2 million rounds of ammunition products annually, did not respond to a voicemail message on Monday.

On Tuesday, Cerebrus Capital Management, a private equity firm that acquired the Freedom Group, announced that it was selling off all of its gun and ammunition assets. “We were shocked and deeply saddened by the events that took place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012,” the company declared in a statement sent out to news outlets. “We cannot comprehend the losses suffered by the families and friends of those killed by the unthinkable crimes committed that day. No words or actions can lessen the enormity of this event or make a dent in the pain that was inflicted on so many.”

Ammunition sales "have been on the rise since probably early or mid-2008, and they've been rising pretty consistently," said Nima Samadi, senior guns and ammunition industry analyst at IBISWorld Inc.

Like the gun industry in general, Samadi said, the ammo business has grown because of a fear of gun control. "I think the biggest factor if you look specifically over past four or five years has been concern over changing gun laws," he said. "It began even before Obama was elected and has been sustained throughout his presidency."

Samadi said he has no information about the popularity of high-capacity magazines in particular.

The small-arms ammunition-manufacturing industry is worth 3 billion dollars in annual revenue, Samadi said -- about a quarter of value of the small-arms industry in general.

The vast majority of gun and ammo sales still take place at "brick-and-mortar" retailers, Samadi said. But online ammunition sales have grown "pretty aggressively" over the last decade, he added.

People who hope to restrict ammunition-use say that this is particularly concerning. "At least in a face-to-face sale you give our society a fighting chance to keep these weapons and ammunitions out of the wrong hands," said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, based in California.

California, with some of the strongest gun laws in the nation, is one of just six states that have banned or otherwise restricted the use of high-capacity magazines, according to Thomas.

But Thomas said the effectiveness of state regulations has been compromised by the fact the people can easily buy ammo online or in neighboring states. "Without federal-level control, it's almost impossible to have a truly dramatic difference," she said.

One state that hasn't succeeded in banning high-capacity magazines is Connecticut. In March 2011, advocates for gun control proposed a state law that would have made it a felony to possess magazines with a capacity of more than 10 bullets and required owners to surrender them to law enforcement or remove them from the state.

The response from the gun industry and gun advocates was overwhelming. A campaign organized by the National Rifle Association and other advocates resulted in more than 30,000 emails to state lawmakers. "It died very quickly," said Robert Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, a lobbying group.

And if supporters revive the bill, "it will die again," Crook predicted.

Despite his differences with gun-control advocates, Crook, like Thomas, said ammunition respects no boundaries. "If you restrict buying ammunition in Connecticut, what's to stop anyone from going into Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, the Internet?" Crook said.

"What we're looking for is reasonable, rational provable laws that work," Crook said. "As for what those laws might be …" He trailed off and then acknowledged that he couldn't think of anything.

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