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Prices up, supplies down for firearms at W.Pa. retailers

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 12:23 a.m.

Some rapid-fire rifles that could face renewed federal restrictions have roughly doubled in price in the past few weeks, and Western Pennsylvania retailers said they're hard-pressed to meet the swelling demand.

“Yes, business is good. But at the same time, you can't get any product,” said Nathan Carey, owner of Bullseye Firearms Gun Vault in New Alexandria, Westmoreland County. “Once you run out, you're waiting weeks to be able to get any product. It's never good for this to go on.”

The trend has driven up prices, particularly for military-style rifles, which are now selling for between $1,500 and $2,500 — up from a low of $900 a few weeks ago, said Sportsman's Supply Co. President Grant Williams. His Butler company expected to run out of some AR-15 semi-automatic models on Wednesday, just as President Obama introduced a 23-point plan he said should prevent gun violence.

“I hate to tell you, but it's the truth that we are raising prices because we can't get very much of the product,” Williams said.

Sales of AR-15 models, which could be phased out under federal proposals, began outrunning supplies in late December, forcing stocks to dramatic lows, he said. Prices on guns most likely to get new regulation have gone up 50 percent or more, he said.

Prices showed no signs of reversing as Obama outlined ideas that include universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines in civilian hands.

Carey said buyers are eager for any firearms that hold more than 10 rounds — a threshold that would become a capacity limit under the Obama plan.

Gun retailers said demand had been rising when Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 26 people, including 20 children, on Dec. 14 in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school. He also shot and killed his mother at her house.

The shootings stoked new fears and uncertainty surrounding gun control, pushing buyer interest into overdrive, they said.

Braverman Arms in Wilkinsburg has raised prices by $15 to $20 on some models “because of the difference I'm paying” to suppliers, said manager Keith Savage.

“We are making a little extra money, which I say openly,” Savage said. “What I am not doing is doubling my money, which, unfortunately, is some of what you see going on out there.”

Prices for AR-15 semi-automatic rifles have climbed 50 to 200 percent in the past month, varying by model and geographic region, said Andrew Molchan, director of the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers in Florida. He called the supplies at gun stores “extremely limited.”

“This is a standard pattern that goes back half a century,” Molchan said. “When the government starts talking about banning this or banning that and it's in the news, sales go up.”

The duration of the shortage — and the higher prices — will depend on how long lawmakers chew over the issue, he said. It could be another three to five months before the tension eases, Molchan said.

Retired police Officer Rick Hamilton, 65, said he's heard a lot of fear in the Washington County gun store where he works.

“People fear they're not going to be able to buy things they've been putting off, saving money for,” said Hamilton of Morris. “Now they're deciding to buy whether they can afford it or not.”

Adam Smeltz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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