Walmart has reportedly sold out of semi-automatic rifles in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama, according to a Wednesday report from Bloomberg. The nation's largest retailer reintroduced guns to many of its stores in 2011, after a five-year period of limited availability. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Bloomberg, and it said it was not willing to provide comment to HuffPost.
“It’s a money-grab out there,” said Mike McGovern, an IT project manager who said he woke up the morning after Friday’s massacre and bought a Glock 19 handgun at a Western New Jersey gun store that was packed with customers.
When McGovern returned home, he said he logged on to several online forums for gun owners and found an unusually high number of advertisements from arms dealers, including one ad that said, "Get ‘em while you still can,” referring to the prospect that last week’s shooting will lead to stricter gun control laws. Soon enough, online sellers were boosting prices, McGovern said. On CheaperThanDirt.com, a leading web-based gun store, the price of a magazine for assault weapons jumped from $30 to $60, one firearms blog noted.
Not all high-profile shootings cause gun prices to rise. The killings last summer in Aurora, Colo. didn't boost demand for guns enough to affect prices, said S.P. Fjestad, author of the Blue Book of Gun Values, a firearms pricing guide published annually. But last week’s massacre has sparked a gun-buying craze in America that’s prompted retailers to overcharge, and consumers to overpay, said Fjestad, citing anecdotal evidence.
On Monday, a police officer in the Chicago area called Fjestad to tell him about his recent experience buying guns from a Virginia-based dealer, Fjestad told HuffPost in an email.
Fjestad said the officer had contacted the dealer on Dec. 12 to inquire about a new, modified AK-47 and a “tricked out” AR-15, which would cost $600 and $1,000, respectively, the dealer reportedly said. The officer decided to hold off, and called the dealer again on Saturday. The prices had jumped to $1,000 and $1,600, respectively -- but the officer bought them anyway.
“I asked him why,” Fjestad recalled, “and his reply was, ‘They didn’t have any more, and I believe the prices won’t go down.’”
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Such anecdotes have become increasingly common in recent days. Another police officer, who lives in the South Shore of Massachusetts and asked to remain anonymous because he didn’t want people to know he was stockpiling guns, bought an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle on Saturday morning. He now owns three. Asked why, the officer said, “They’re investments.”
“I bought an AR-15 in ‘92, right before the ‘94 ban,” he explained. During the federal ban on assault weapons -- which began in 1994 under former President Bill Clinton and was lifted in 2004 -- “the value of that gun roughly doubled,” the officer claimed.
In those years, it was illegal to manufacture weapons in the banned categories, but weapons already in circulation could be resold. If an assault weapons ban is passed again, which many gun owners are expecting after comments on Wednesday by President Barack Obama, the officer said he plans to advertise the gun in his precinct, or the local gun club, and flip it for a profit.
The officer said he was deeply troubled by last week’s shooting, but was not concerned by the fact that such incidents frequently cause firearm sales to surge. “My concern is not the guns, it's how many people like Adam Lanza are out there,” he said. “I have kids who are the age of those kids in Connecticut. But I’m not naive enough to think that if you outlaw guns, or a certain type of gun, a guy like that can’t kill." The officer added, “Look what Timothy McVeigh did with a truck, fuel and fertilizer.”
Others contacted by HuffPost reported making recent gun purchases out of fear for their personal safety and their family's safety. Lena Smith, an office manager and single mother of four living in Auburn, Wash., said last week's events motivated her to start the process of obtaining a concealed weapon license.
"I do not intend to keep an arsenal of firepower in my home," she said in an email to HuffPost. "I will purchase a small .38 special revolver." Smith said, "I hope and pray that I will never ever have to use my gun ... however, in the event that I am out in public with my children and someone has decided to carry out heinous acts as we saw at Sandy Hook, the Aurora movie theater, the Clackamas Town Center, the Tacoma Mall, I will be ready to protect myself and my children."
Rob Frates, the manager of Discount Shooter, a local gun shop in Roseville, Calif., said he sold four AR-15s on Monday. “You tell a child they can’t have something, they want it even more, and it’s no different with these guns,” Frates told HuffPost. “There are millions of them out there, and the main thing that’s driving up the price is all the talk in the media putting a negative spin on the firearm.”
In the wake of the shooting, a bevy of retailers suspended sales of the AR-15, reportedly used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook killings -- but it hasn't stopped America from reaching for firepower.
“The manufacturers [of the AR-15] can’t keep up with the demand,” said Robert Caselnova, the owner of Cas Firearms, a gun store located less than 10 minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary.
Despite the surge in gun sales, which have been climbing in 2012, being in the gun business is tough following such incidents, Frates said.
“It’s like selling alcohol after a high-profile drunk-driving accident,” he said. “And it’s especially difficult because I have small children myself, at a school less than five minutes down the road.”