They come looking for Ruger rifles, Glock handguns and standard shotguns.
At Sandy’s Guns and Ammo, the lone gun shop on the Long Beach Peninsula, business has never been better.
Racks of rifles and shotguns line the glass counter loaded with everything from Glock handguns to palm-sized peashooters. Owner Dallas ‘Sandy’ Bennett estimates he more than 300 different firearms in stock, drawing customers from around the county.
“We have a fixed population base, as more people become acclimated to where I am, my business has correspondingly picked up,” Bennett said. “Every year has gotten better.”
Locked and loaded
The growing gun sales locally is reflective of a trend occurring nationwide. Background checks compiled by the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) serve as a barometer for gun sales nationwide, since a check is required before a gun can be sold. The exact figure for gun sales remains elusive however, as multiple guns can be sold through a single check. But 2018 was clearly a banner year for gun sales.
In 2018 firearm sales soared to record levels across Washington and Oregon. In Oregon, more than 350,000 background checks were completed, the most ever for a single year.
More than 627,000 background checks were completed in Washington, the second highest since records started in 1998.
Politics often play a profound part in firearms sales. Typically with each election, one presidential candidate will assume the role as a protector of the Second Amendment rights while skewering their counterpart as less committed to a citizens’ right to bear arms. Gun sales surged ahead of the 2016 election as many believed Hillary Clinton would inevitably win and incorporate stronger gun control measures. After Donald Trump won the election, gun sales fell.
“Everybody was coming in previous to the election and buying their ‘Hillary Guns,’” Bennett said. “Once he (Trump) won the election, sales fell off dramatically for a while.”
Across the river in Warrenton, a similar situation was unfolding at North Coast Shooter’s Supply.
“The industry as a whole has been talking about how the election affected sales, because there was no panic with Trump in the White House,” said owner Jeff Kelland. “There wasn’t a fear that they’re going to ban this and that, that they need to get something before they can’t.”
In January 2013, Kelland routinely sold guns the day they went on the shelf. Today, the same guns often sit for months without a buyer, even at deeply discounted prices.
“It’s under $600 with a upgraded barrel, optic scope,” Kelland said motioning to a black, assault-style weapon the wall. “I’ve had it for three months. I can’t sell it. In January 2013, that gun would have been $1,800 and would have sold the day I got it in. It was that crazy. It’s literally a night-and-day difference from five years ago. But now the market is saturated and there’s no panic.”
Sales have slumped the past two years for Kelland, who said that gun-control legislation in Oregon has crippled and could ultimately close his Warrenton-based business.
“With some of the legislation that Oregon has been proposing, people are concerned that if they do buy something they won’t be able to keep it,” he explained.
Kelland specifically referred to Senate Bill 501, which he said would directly impact ammunition and gun sales if passed.
“It would make any firearm capable of carrying more than five rounds illegal, which is basically everything but a five-shot revolver or a hunting rifle,” he said. “The ammunition sales would be limited to 20 rounds per month, which is silly. Pistol practice ammunition comes in 50-round boxes. As a retailer what am I supposed to do? Sit around here with plastic bags and unload boxes? Then there’s no way to track it, they put the onus on the retailer. At that point I would probably just fold up, it’s not worth it.”
Kelland said the new bill would cause a “gunpocalypse.”
He observed “It would be the strictest gun control in the country, even surpassing California, New York and New Jersey. If it gets on the ballot and passes… what can I sell? Revolvers and bolt-action rifles, that would be about it along with ammo at 20 rounds per month. It’s just silly.”
Even if the bill doesn’t pass, Kelland said there will likely be fallout from customers who will now think twice before buying a gun that could eventually be considered illegal to possess.
“People are worried that if they buy a gun they will have to register it with the state or eventually have to get rid of it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve had it for years. Everybody knows that’s the first step in confiscation, if they know you have it, then they can say it’s illegal and you get a knock on your door.”
In spite of ballot initiatives that could curtail his sales, Kelland has pushed to expand his inventory. In December he acquired his class 3 firearm license, which permits him to sell National Firearms Act (NFA) restricted weapons and components.
“I’m dealing with all the restricted stuff, like full auto machine guns, suppressors, short-barreled rifles and shotguns,” Kelland said. “I now have the ability to sell and broker those things for people.”
He doesn’t intend to keep any full-auto machine guns in stock, but can assist those looking to order one.
“I can be the dealer through which they can get all the paperwork through the Feds taken care of,” he said. There haven’t been any machine guns purchased yet, but Kelland has sold five suppressors in the past month.