Letter Re: Gun Show Report–A Window of Opportunity?

On Sunday, I attended what is billed as the largest gun show in North Carolina and thought you and your readers might appreciate an update.
What I saw lead me to believe that supplies of black rifles and magazines are catching back up to demand but that ammunition and reloading components remain in short supply — especially primers.

When I attended the November show, I had to wait in line 30 minutes or so just to get in. I heard the March show had a two hour wait. Today, there was no wait at all. It was crowded inside, but not jammed like the first post-election show. Still, a healthy amount of business was being conducted, far more than two years ago when I last attended as a dealer.

My first stop was to pick up the smokeless powder that I use to load .223. It was sold out at my normal dealer. They had a big sign that said “No Primers.” I found another dealer and bought two pounds. The price was reasonable. He had only magnum pistol primers in stock. He told me the price as $48 per thousand, but he expected it to settle back down in three months. I did not see any other primers in the entire show. Several folks were selling bags of 100 pieces of brass, but no one was selling 1,000 piece bags of it or other large lots, and prices were up. So brass and primers remain in short supply. Possibly it is all going to commercial ammunition production.

I was surprised to see that there were lots of new black rifles available — more than I had expected. There were plenty of AR-15s well as AR uppers and lowers. Despite wider availability, prices remain high. The cheapest plain vanilla AR-15 that I saw was $1,080, with most guns starting at $1,200 and anything with an adjustable buttstock and rails instead of the older forearm starting at around $1,600. In fact, I would say $1,600 was the average price for a Bushmaster or a S&W M&P. Of course, there were still $3,000 guns for sale, but no one was showing much interest.

Stripped lowers from the lesser-known manufacturers were going for about $139 and full lowers with an adjustable buttstock from Rock River Arms were $359. I was looking for a spare bolt and bolt carrier, but never found one. I also saw that part kits for lowers were in short supply. So if you are planning on piecing together a gun, it might make more sense just to buy one complete. You could wait weeks for parts and possibly spend even more when all is said and done.

AK-47s were widely available, as were the Ruger Mini-14 and Mini-30. AKs were running in the $600 and up range while SKSes were closing in on $400. A CETME rifle with a Century Arms receiver that cost $300 five years ago was not going for a shockingly high $1,295. I only saw one Springfield Armory M1A. It had a stainless steel barrel and was $1,695. FALs were scarce and at least as pricey.

Based on this show, magazines seem to be back to reasonable availability. Used AR-15 magazines were $9. New .223 alloy magazines from C-Products or DPMS were starting at $15 at most sellers. MagPul polymer magazines were $25 to $29, depending on the model. They were some available, but limited quantities.

Pistol dealers were doing a very robust trade. I saw many more people buying pistols than I did long guns. There were dealers with 20 tables just lined up with Glocks, Springfield Armory pistols, SIGs, Smith and Wessons, Kahrs, Kel-Tecs and just about anything else you could see. Every pistol dealer had people sitting in chairs filing out paperwork.

Rifle ammunition was in decent supply. I saw at least three dealers that had stacks of 1,000 round cases of new, commercial .223/5.56 from Federal XM193 and/or PMC for $459 and up. Many others had Wolf, Bear or other Russian or Eastern European ammo. There were also folks selling “remanufactured” ammo — 500 in a .30 caliber ammo can for $275. Since this was the second day of the show and near the end, I was surprised at this availability — all the anecdotal evidence I had heard lead me to believe cases of .223 would be sold out. .308 ammo was harder to come by, with very little domestic production available. There was a moderate supply of Russian calibers and one guy had a pallet of 8mm [Mauser] that didn’t seem to be selling.

Pistol ammunition was much more scarce than rifle ammo, especially in common calibers. I saw only one dealer with .380 (for $35 a box) and only a few with 9mm. Dealers had signs saying “No 9mm” or “No .45 ACP.” Self defense ammo with a good hollow point, such as Gold Dot or Ranger SXT were going for $45 or $50 for a box of 50 rounds. There was more .357 and .40 [S&W] and good supplies of less common calibers like .44 Special. I only saw one dealer with bricks of 1,000 .22 LRs, but plenty were selling the small 50 or 100 round boxes.

If this one show is any example, I would say that the industry is doing a good job or meeting the increased demand for firearms, albeit at the expense of the secondary market. Demand remains high, but is down from the surge in the months immediately following the election, and supply is now catching up. The threat of additional legislation, assault weapon bans and magazine bans remains and is likely to grow rather than recede. As a result, this may be a good window of opportunity to buy a new firearm. While it is possible prices will drop if we reach an over supply situation, I personally think that is unlikely in the next two or three years unless the Republicans win an awful lot of seats in the next congressional election.

The strong sales of pistols and lack of availability in pistol caliber ammunition leads me to believe that many people are worried about rising crime and are arming themselves. This is consistent with the up tick in people taking concealed carry courses. One has to wonder if the same lines that produced pistol ammo have been converted over to rifle calibers and if we are destined to see shortages in one or the other for some time to come.

Finally, the recent sales explosion in firearms and the sudden lack of availability in the market should be a lesson to anyone sitting on the survival fence. Do not put off your preparations any longer. A sudden change can suck all the supplies out of the pipeline and result in months of backorders for long term storage food, water filters, medical supplies, etc. The just-in-time supply situation is a precarious one and any small shock can upset the balance, resulting in shortages and price increases. – Captain Dave