Magazine sales soar ahead of Washington State ban

Nothing juices sales of guns and accessories like gun control, and we’re seeing that phenomenon play out in Washington State at the moment, where the state legislature approved a ban on “large capacity” magazines earlier this year. The new law is set to take effect on July 1st, and in the weeks before its enactment, gun stores are reporting high demand for the soon-to-be-outlawed items, which, under the new law, won’t be available for sale or purchase. Existing owners of those magazines are grandfathered in, though one gun store owner says that a lot of gun owners are unaware of the specifics in the new statute.

Tom Engel, owner of i5 Guns & Ammo on Martin Way in Lacey, told McClatchy that the number one question they’re getting is from people who are under the impression that they won’t be allowed to have high-capacity magazines at all, including the ones they currently own, which he said is not the case. “The magazines you have at midnight on June 30 are the mags you have, and it doesn’t matter what they are,” Engel said.

… However, Engel said gun owners should be concerned how they transport them. While Washingtonians can still travel out of state and return with the magazines they currently possess, the law prohibits gun owners from purchasing high-capacity magazines in other states and returning to Washington with them. Gun owners with concealed carry permits can still keep their high-capacity magazines on them as well, which has been another major concern for some gun owners. The law does not regulate possession of the magazines.

Additionally, Washingtonians cannot sell high-capacity magazines to other people outside of the state. Selling high-capacity magazines online after July 1 is also prohibited and a violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act. Violators could face a gross misdemeanor.

Engel says he’s seen a 10-to-20-fold increase in the number of magazines he’s selling, and he’s not alone. Many gun store owners and employees are reporting a run on the soon-to-be-banned magazines.

Danny Borne, owner of Dan’s Firearms in Port Orchard, said there has been more interest in AR-15-style rifles, which he attributes to the upcoming magazine ban. Borne said responsible gun owners are being unfairly punished and he is skeptical that the magazine ban will prevent shootings.
“The criminals aren’t going to care. They’re still going to do what they’re still going to do and the only people that it’s going to affect are people that weren’t a problem to start with,” he said.
Borne said the pandemic business boom has shown no sign of stopping. Sales doubled the year following March 2020 and then doubled again the next year, he said.
In-person and online sales of magazines have skyrocketed in recent months at Precise Shooter, a Woodinville gun shop, said owner Sergey Solyanik in an emailed statement.
“There are millions of magazines brought into WA in anticipation of ban, at the end of the day there will be more magazines here than a decade worth of normal sales,” he said.

That’s the rub for anti-gun activists and gun-hating politicians. Imposing a ban takes time, and once consumers are aware that a ban is coming, they’ll rush out to but whatever it is that’s going away. It’s human nature, frankly, but some gun control activists see something far more nefarious at play. Over at Time magazine, editor-at-large Belinda Luscombe recently penned a report that insinuates the firearms industry is okay with mass shootings because gun sales tend to increase afterwards.

While the outcry about them is nearly universal—and more than half of Americans favor stricter gun laws—studies show that mass shootings often precede an increase in gun sales and a rise in the share prices of publicly-traded firearms manufacturers. In other words, they can be good for gunmakers’ bottom lines.

On May 24, the day a shooter opened fire on elementary students in Uvalde, Texas, stocks in Sturm, Ruger & Co. were trading at $63.62. A week later they were at $68.57, and later hovered around the $66-mark. Smith & Wesson Brands Inc. had an even steeper climb, rising 9.4% from $13.93 to $15.24 in one day, and have traded around $15 since.

One of the reasons for the uptick in share-buying might be that gun sales often spike in the wake of a gun tragedy. The number of FBI firearm background check requests—one measure of how many guns are being sold—rose above May’s monthly average in the days following the Uvalde elementary school killings.

Luscombe at least acknowledges that the rise in gun sales is prompted by consumer demand, and points to a study from UC-Davis that tracked the number of background checks performed in the state and corollated them with high profile mass shooting incidents.

Background checks don’t always correlate with the number of guns sold, but a longitudinal study conducted in 2021 by trauma surgeons at University of California Davis correlated 20 years worth of mass shooting events with actual gun sales in California. It looked at the 20 most deadly shootings in the years 1996 to 2015, plus all mass school shootings during the same period, and found that gun sales rose in the 30 days after each event and again in December of that year.

“Although we can’t stipulate definitive causality, our thought was that in California new gun regulations go into effect January 1 every year,” says Dr Rachael Callcut, the lead author of the study. (She acknowledges that some of the gun buyers could also be holiday shopping during December.) Mass shootings have, the authors believe, a pile-on effect. People not only purchase guns to protect themselves from armed attackers in the days after the event, they also purchase guns before the year’s end to hedge against the implementation of any firearms bans the mass-shooting generates.

That makes sense, but not every state follows California’s calendar, and Washington State’s current run on “large capacity” magazines is a good example of the “pile-on” effect at work. Gun owners are responding to the ban by purchasing these magazines while they still can, and the net result, as gun store owner Sergey Solyanik pointed out, is that gun control activists have actually flooded the state with the very items that they’re trying to prohibit. If I were a gun owner in Washington, however, I wouldn’t get too comfortable. As we’ve seen in states like California and New Jersey, once a ban is in place, the next step for anti-gun lawmakers is to go back and remove the grandfather clause, and I expect that’s exactly what Democrats in Olympia are planning to do next year.