Will This New Virginia Gun Law Really Cause Sales To Plummet?

That’s the claim of a new story at Fox Business, though I have to confess up front that I’m not really persuaded by the evidence. According to reporter Evie Fordham, the state’s new one-gun-a-month law that restricts handgun purchases to a single pistol per 30 days (with a couple of big exceptions we’ll get to momentarily) could lead to a dramatic decline in overall gun sales in the state.

That last measure may take away business from gun stores, Steve Garriss, who has worked as a sales clerk at Clark Brother Gun Shop in Warrenton, Virginia, since 2008, he told FOX Business. Virginia Democrats brought back a law limiting gun buyers to one handgun a month that was repealed in 2012.

“The one handgun a month thing, they had that when I first started working here. They discontinued it. … You do lose sales from it,” Garriss said. “Some people come in, they bought one two weeks ago. Two weeks later, they may not be interested.”
Aaaaannd, that’s all the evidence presented. Seriously. Garriss appears to be the only person connected to firearm sales that Fordham spoke to for her story, despite the headline claiming that “stores” (note the plural) say that gun sales could plummet. Note that Garriss himself doesn’t claim that the one-gun-a-month law will lead to a dramatic drop in sales, only that some sales will be lost.
Before I go any further, let me state for the record that I think Virginia’s new gun rationing law is dumb, and absolutely worthless as a crime-fighting measure for multiple reasons. First, most criminals acquire their firearms through the illicit market, theft or from family or friends. About ten percent of individuals in prison for gun-related offenses originally bought their gun at retail. Even those individuals, before they became convicted felons, could continue to purchase one handgun per month without violating the new law.
What about gun trafficking? Won’t a gun rationing law limit the number of firearms that could be bought in Virginia and then sent north to places like New York City? Possibly, but the more likely outcome is that any gun traffickers will simply broaden their pool of straw buyers. The economy’s not so great at the moment, and unfortunately I’m sure there are plenty of people in Virginia who are willing to lie about who the guy they’re buying is really for. In fact, the one-gun-a-month law may actually make it more difficult to identify potential gun trafficking rings, thanks to the likely move from a few people buying several guns to several people buying one gun per month.
So, I think it’s a bad law that never should have been passed. But will it really lead to a sharp decline in gun sales in Virginia? I don’t think so. The state’s previous one-gun-a-month law was repealed in July of 2012, and it’s true that the state saw a 35% increase in gun background checks in 2012 compared to 2011. Most of that can be attributed not to the repeal of one-gun-a-month, but the response to then-President Barack Obama’s call for sweeping gun control after the Sandy Hook murders. As WJLA-TV reported in early 2013:

Those in the industry say the state spike was fueled in part by the July 1 repeal of Virginia’s one-handgun-per-month law and fears of increased gun restrictions after December’s school shooting in Connecticut. Transactions in December rose 79 percent over the same month in 2011. Interest tends to increase customers fear for personal safety or worry that lawmakers might ban certain firearms.

“Given that the two largest month increases in background checks (November 2008 and December 2012) came following President Obama’s election and President Obama’s address about the Sandy Hook tragedy, I think it would be fair to say that individuals may be reacting to what they believe could be an attack on the right to own a gun by buying more firearms,” Thomas R. Baker, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Baker, who specializes in criminology theory and studies gun-related issues, said fear of being a victim may also be driving sales.

Town Gun Shop Inc. stores in Martinsville and Chesterfield County set new company sales records “every day” during the week after the Sandy Hook shooting, said president Mark Tosh. He estimated that sales quadrupled over the same period in 2011.

That’s what really drove sales in 2012, just as fears of civil unrest, rising violent crime, economic uncertainty, and chaos in the streets are driving gun sales now. I don’t see those fears subsiding much before the election, to be honest, and that will continue to drive sales to the point that I believe first time gun buyers alone will far outpace the number of people attempting to purchase multiple handguns in a one month period. With today’s current run on guns, some stores in the state are already imposing rations on firearm and ammunition sales; not to preemptively adopt Northam’s gun control laws, but in an attempt to ensure that as many new gun owners as possible can exercise their Second Amendment right.
There’s one other reason I believe Virginia’s new gun rationing law won’t have an enormous impact on gun sales in the state. Under the law that took effect on Wednesday, individuals with a concealed carry license are exempt from the one-gun-a-month provision. Rather than leading to a decrease in gun sales, I think it’s actually more likely that the state’s new gun law will lead to an increase in the number of Virginians who are carrying firearms for self-defense.
The real reason Virginia gun sales could see a decline in July and in the months ahead has nothing to do with Ralph Northam’s gun control laws and everything to do with the law of supply and demand. Right now firearms and ammunition manufacturers are producing product as fast as they can, but may be starting to run into supply chain issues as far as components (particularly for ammunition). The inventory on hand in distributor warehouses has long been picked clean, and gun companies are simply having a hard time keeping up with the number of Americans hoping to purchase a firearm at the moment. That’s not just a Virginia problem, but if Virginia’s background check numbers decline next month, it will be the reason why.