The problem for gun shop owners isn’t finding customers. It’s finding the product.
“It’s a sad scenario when you can’t get a gun to sell to the public,” said Stephen Bayazes, the owner of Guns & Ammo Gunsmith in North Augusta.
He said his son has a full-time job making calls and staying on the computer just trying to keep the store stocked.
Most of the cases behind the counter sit empty now, but Bayazes said it’s not for lack of trying.
“There are no AR-15s,” he said. “We just can’t keep the product in the stores.”
The AR-15 is one of the guns that could be affected by a proposed assault weapons ban that will affect almost 160 specific military-style firearms and magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
Many local gun store owners say they do not expect the ban to pass. Instead, they say, it’s created one of the largest ever “panic-buying” frenzies.
Though there are no statistics to gauge gun purchases, FBI background check data can provide a general idea.
From November to January, the FBI ran 7.27 million background checks on potential buyers. From the same period one year earlier, 4.76 million were performed.
Experts say the rise began around the November elections, then increased after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. The proposal to ban certain weapons and magazines furthered demand.
Out of the top 10 highest days for background checks, nine occurred since Nov. 23, 2012. The other occurred Nov. 25, 2011.
The numbers are not a clear representation of how many guns have been purchased because it doesn’t take into account the number of denials or firearms purchased after approval, experts say.
Ray Reynolds, the manager of United Loan & Firearms in downtown Augusta, said he saw similar increases in purchases when President Obama took office, but they weren’t as dramatic.
Local shop owners said purchases have increased even more this month as tax refund checks start coming in.
Reynolds said he’s seeing sales increase across all categories of firearms. In years past, Bayazes said, he was selling about 125 pistols a year. Now he’s seeing twice that in a month.
“Everyone is buying anything they can get their hands on,” said Stephen Meldrum, the club manager at Pinetucky Gun Club.
That goes for ammunition, too. The most requested are .22-caliber, .223-caliber and 9 mm ammo.
Reynolds said he’s been able to keep an adequate supply of everything except for .22- and .223-caliber ammunition, which has been sold out for the past 30 days.
“Every day I look with my distributors to try and find it,” he said.
Bayazes said the ammo shortage is a result of stockpiling and resale schemes. Some stores have put restrictions on the number of boxes each customer can buy.
“We get ammunition in every day, and every day it’s gone,” he said.
Recently he’s seen customers buying large amounts of ammo just to post the pictures and information online to sites where they can sell it for twice the price.
Police stock up
Law enforcement agencies across the country report experiencing back orders and shortages when it comes to having adequate ammunition for officers, but locally, it hasn’t become a problem.
“We have a surplus. We’re good to go,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew.
He said some orders can now take six or more months to come in, but the department has always ordered early.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has experienced some delays in shipments, but all orders have been filled.
“We have an adequate inventory,” said sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.
Despite ammo shortages, Meldrum said it’s not affecting how conservative shooters are with their bullets at the gun range. Instead, he’s seeing an increase in overall interest in guns and training.
He doesn’t expect the shortages and frenzy to last much longer.
“Everyone who is probably panic buying has probably got (what they want) by now,” Meldrum said.
He expects that by April or May, the gun business will be back to normal.
A previous assault weapons ban, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, expired in 2004. Most shop owners don’t expect a new ban to become law. However, most support more mental health and background checks for buyers.
Bayazes said he’s concerned about the perception some people have of these guns.
In August, he used an AR-15 to fire 30 rounds at three men who drove a stolen van through the side of his store while he and his wife slept in an apartment in the back.
The men, who had been loading merchandise into the van, yelled “kill him” just before Bayazes fired the first shot. Two got away despite being shot several times, but one died at the store.
“I still live with the nightmare every night that someone is going to come in and do it again,” he said.