Assault-weapons law expires without a bang

Not much clamor at stores yet, but gun makers note pent-up demand

September 15, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

For Al Koch and his staff, yesterday was about the same as the day before.

The manager of Barts Sporting Goods in Glen Burnie didn't have a line of customers waiting to buy certain types of once-banned assault weapons. In fact, he said he didn't have any in stock.

"I would order them if people wanted that style of weapon, but that style of weapon was never our thing," Koch said.

The first day after the expiration of the federal assault-weapons ban passed with gun shop owners across the state reporting more questions than orders from customers.

But formerly prohibited firearms and accessories could start appearing in coming weeks as manufacturers and distributors rush to fulfill what some have described as a decade-long pent-up demand.

"There's been a huge demand that's been suppressed for 10 years, and now all of a sudden everybody's calling," said George Holloway, a salesman for Olympic Arms Inc. in Washington, which makes and sells semiautomatic assault weapons, parts and accessories. "We've gotten hundreds of calls today," he said - mainly from dealers. "It's absolutely insane."

Holloway said the company had kept a waiting list from distributors and dealers who were prepared to order certain weapons or accessories.

Long-running dispute

Gun-rights advocates, manufacturers and dealers have long argued that the ban did little more than restrict "cosmetic" features - such as bayonets, flash suppressors and collapsible stocks - on semiautomatic weapons, and its expiration would have little effect on what gets sold.

But ban proponents say such talk is designed to sap support for an extension.

"The ban did mean something, and now, sad as it is, we have nothing," said Leah Barrett, executive director of CeaseFire Maryland, a nonprofit gun safety advocacy group. If the ban was meaningless, she asked, why did the gun industry fight so hard to ensure its expiration?

The practical consequence of the ban's lapse, at least in Maryland, is harder to discern. Dealers noted that Maryland is one of a handful of states that have their own regulations for buying and owning assault weapons, and those rules remain in effect despite the federal ban's expiration at midnight Monday.

Accessories at issue

"The weapons still won't flood the market," said Detective Sgt. Timothy Frye with the state police firearms enforcement section. "It's a pretty involved process."

However, accessories such as bayonet mounts and flash suppressors that were once banned - if used in a combination of two or more on assault weapons - are not limited by state law and can now be purchased.

Also, the federal ban had limited the size of the magazines to 10 rounds. In Maryland, regulations allow for a capacity of no more than 20 rounds.

Even under the ban, there had been a steady market in pre-ban assault weapons that were "grandfathered" by the law. Nevertheless, one likely effect of the expiration is that prices for certain kinds of weapons, which went up during the ban, will come down as manufacturers begin making and selling such weapons again, dealers and others said.

And that's a problem, according to Barrett: "When you have more on the market, then the prices will fall. I think it's going to be cheaper for people to obtain these weapons."

Orders come in

On Monday, in the first three hours of business, Holloway, the Olympic salesman, said he received orders for $10,000 worth of items that were previously banned - about as much as he received all day on a typical Monday when the ban was in effect.

But Holloway said he expects the interest to "taper off" by the end of the month.

Other gun manufacturers did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Sanford Abrams, owner of Valley Guns in Parkville, said that manufacturers may be coping with orders from distributors now, but the products haven't trickled down yet to the dealer level.

"Nobody has called to offer me parts or brand-new models," said Abrams, who is also vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association and a board member of the National Rifle Association.

"This is not going to be a huge rush because people who wanted these guns over the last 10 years already bought them. There's been no rush. ... The only rush we've had in our store is the media."

Weapons permitted

Among the weapons now permitted in Maryland after the expiration of the federal ban are semiautomatic models of these makes. Buyers must undergo a criminal background check and a seven-day waiting period: AK-47s (certain copies or versions)

Uzi

Colt AR-15

Beretta Ar70

Fabrique National

Steyr AUG

Accessories that are no longer restricted:

Bayonet

Flash suppressor

Grenade launcher (grenades, however, are tightly restricted) Pistol grip

Collapsible stock

Magazines that can carry up to 20 rounds

Sources: Public Law 103-322, Maryland State Police, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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