Washington State gun sales heat up as 'assault weapons' ban gains ground in legislature

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A bill banning the manufacture and sale of so-called “assault weapons” has cleared the House of Representatives in Washington State and is moving toward the state Senate floor. While gun owners have been speaking out against the measure during committee hearings and have been contacting lawmakers urging them to reject the gun ban, many of them are also taking a more pragmatic step in response to the legislation. As VICE News reports, gun sales are taking off in Washington State, and it looks like the most popular items are the very arms that anti-gun Democrats are trying to make off-limits.


Gun store owners across Washington state say that AR-15 sales are through the roof due to a proposed assault weapon ban that’s currently making its way through the legislature.

… House Bill 1240, which would create an official definition of “assault weapon” and prohibit all future sales or transfers of firearms that fall into that category, was introduced at the urging of Gov. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson. It still has a ways to go: next week, a Senate Committee will vote on it, then it’ll go to a full vote before the Democrat-majority Senate.

But gun store owners told VICE News that they weren’t feeling very confident about things shaking out in their favor. “It looks bleak,” said Tom Engel, owner of i5 Guns & Ammo in Lacey, Washington.

… Independent gun store owners in Washington told VICE News that they believe any assault weapon ban would ultimately be overturned, but in the meantime they’re preparing for the worst. Engel said that some out-of-state firearm dealers are acting like the ban is already in place and have shut down transfers of semi-automatic weapons to his store, while other dealers have been holding sales and prioritizing shipments to Washington

Even though the future looks uncertain, business is booming for now. Engel says that despite some dealers hitting “pause,” he’s exhausted his inventory and has seen a 10 or 20 fold increase in firearm transfers.

James Campbell, a retiree who co-owns South Sound Guns in Olympia, Washington, said that sales were “ridiculous right now.” “We’re working extra hours and everything to try to keep up,” said Campbell.

Anthony Paulman, who owns Tactical Weapons in TumTum, Washington, near the border with Idaho, says they’ve seen about a 50 percent increase in sales, largely driven by people buying AR-15’s, and that the customers have been a mix of first time and long-time gun owners. Paulman says he’s banking on a provision of the bill that says gunsmiths could continue to offer repairs for AR-15’s owned prior to the ban, and is considering shifting his business to focus on repairs and out-of-state sales. Another gun store owner was so busy with customers at 10 a.m. that he had to cut our conversation short.


We saw the same phenomenon in Illinois and Oregon in advance of their own recent gun control moves. Illinois’s ban on “assault weapons” and “large capacity” magazines is currently facing a number of legal challenges, but even before Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill in early January, gun owners were flocking to gun stores across Illinois, with Maxon’s Shooter Supply’s Dan Eldridge telling Bearing Arms he saw an almost 1000% increase in the number of modern sporting rifles sold ahead of the ban taking effect.

In Oregon, gun sales also cranked up after Measure 114 was narrowly approved by voters and put on ice, at least temporarily, by a county judge. As we reported in February:

In January 2022 Oregon had 23,939 NICS checks for firearm transfers. In January of 2023, as Measure 114 was being implemented and challenged in court, the number shot up to 48,206; an incredible increase of 101%. Gun sales doubled in Oregon last month compared year-to-year, and the only reason to explain it is the number of Oregonians rushing to buy a firearm ahead of the idiotic permit-to-purchase aspect of the gun control initiative taking effect; something that hasn’t happened both because of the courts and the fact that the state wasn’t ready to implement the half-cocked regime despite assurances to the contrary.

The NICS figure could also undercount the true demand for firearms in Oregon. So many people have been trying to purchase guns in the state over the past few months that the Oregon State Police have reported backlogs in submitting NICS requests, so the 44,225 checks that were reported may not represent those who are currently waiting for their check to be submitted or approved.

What we do know is that demand spiked as soon as it became apparent that Measure 114 had been approved by voters (it ultimately received 50.7% support). There were more than 86,000 checks in November, and another 68,000 or so in December; both far higher than historic averages.


Nothing gooses gun sales like the threat of a ban on commonly-owned firearms, and this phenomenon is now on display in Washington State. As it turns out, telling people they can’t have something makes a lot of folks decide that now’s the time to get it, and I suspect that sales are going to remain strong right up until the point the state of Washington tells gun store owners they have to pull modern sporting rifles from their inventory or else face legal repercussions.

HB 1240 won’t do anything to reduce crime or save lives, but it’s helping to sell a lot of guns in the short term. I just hope that those Washington State gun owners who are sending a message with their purchases are just as willing to open up their wallets and support the legal challenges to HB 1240 if and when they become necessary to restore their Second Amendment right and take this gun ban off the books.

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