EAGLE COUNTY - Matt Solomon has been selling guns at a furious pace for the last month and doesn't have the faintest idea when the rush will end.Solomon owns Alpine Arms in Eagle. That store, like most other stores in the United States that sell guns and ammunition, has been hit with what can only be described as a buying fever in the weeks since federal legislators began talking about gun control after a gunman killed 20 students and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.With renewed calls for gun control laws at the federal and state levels, buyers have been rushing to beat whatever new restrictions may come. The result, Solomon said, has been "just a buy-buy-buy cycle," creating an economic stimulus for the gun industry."Most of the dealers and distributors we know say they sold through four months of inventory in two weeks," Solomon said. "A lot of shipments have been delayed because the loading docks are full."
That buying extends to both firearms and ammunition, especially in popular calibers. A recent visit to a large discount store showed just one box of 9mm handgun ammunition in stock, and just one 500-round box of .22 caliber ammunition."We have ammunition, but it's expensive," said John Prince, who works in the sporting goods department at the Eagle Pharmacy. Prince said he's aware of one large retailer that's tripled its prices for .223 rifle ammunition, the caliber most commonly used in AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.Ammunition is hard to come by and expensive just about everywhere. Cabela's, which sells ammunition online, is backordered on virtually every popular caliber of ammunition. And the website of Grace Ammunition, an Eagle County-based ammunition manufacturer, tells customers delivery could take somewhere between days and weeks. Buying a gun takes longer than it once did, too. All retail gun buyers - including those at gun shows - must pass a state background check run through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation before they can buy a firearm and take it home. On light days, it can take as little as 30 minutes for the paperwork to clear. Over the last few weeks, the state system has become so backlogged that those minutes have turned to days."We're seeing (wait times take) eight to 10 days," Solomon said. Most of the buyers Solomon sees these days are people buying guns for the first time. A lot of buyers want rifles, particularly so-called "assault" rifles that look like military firearms. "We don't sell 'assault' weapons - there's no such thing," Solomon said. It's a familiar complaint among gun enthusiasts who say true "assault" rifles are those capable of full-automatic fire, meaning one pull of the trigger will empty a rifle's ammunition magazine. Fully-automatic rifles are available only to the military and a few civilians who have the proper federal licenses. The semi-automatic rifles availble to the vast majority of buyers look like military firearms, but require one pull of the trigger for every round fired. An AR-15, for example, is functionally identical to the Ruger Mini-14, a conventional-looking rifle popular among ranchers and small-game hunters.Solomon said he urges first-time buyers to take gun safety courses, which they can sign up for at the shop. Prince said he hears a lot of customers talking about taking classes, but has no way of knowing if they follow through.
What is certain is that classes for those who want to get a permit for the concealed carry of handguns are usually full these days.Colorado is one of the easier states to get a concealed-carry permit. Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy said Colorado isn't exactly a "shall-issue" state, in which permits must be issued to virtually anyone who applies. But, he said, "If you come in, apply, pay the fees for the (state background) check and there are no issues, it's fine."Then there are the classes, which are commonly advertised in this newspaper's classified ads. Classes run the gamut, from online courses to extensive in-person training. In Eagle County, permit applicants must take a class, in person, from a qualified instructor."Online classes are not acceptable," Hoy said. "I can't issue to someone who may have never handled a handgun before."The whole idea of concealed carry is that others don't know you're packing a firearm. The state keeps a registry of permit holders, but that information isn't public. Tab Bonidy has a permit, and has recently gone public with the fact. A local architect, Bonidy is participating in a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service, challenging its firearm prohibition on postal service property.Bonidy said he hasn't tried to buy anything new over the last several weeks, primarily because of the long waiting period to clear the state's background check."Eight to 10 days is just crazy," he said.A longtime member of the National Rifle Association, Bonidy echoes that group's opinions about current calls for new laws restricting various firearms or the size of ammunition magazines those guns can carry."It's a complete waste of time," he said.On the other hand, Prince said ammunition capacity is already limited for hunting. Hunters can't legally load more than a handful of rounds, for either game or waterfowl.But, Prince said, he's not seeing hunters at his counter."People are just buying guns - they're afraid of losing their rights," he said.Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.