"Black Guns" Becoming Hard to Find

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"I've never seen anything like this in 30 years."

That's the way one gun dealer I spoke with described the land office business his shop was doing in AR-15 style rifles and semiautomatic pistols.

That's the trend across the country as supply channels have simply dried up for the very much in demand "black rifle" category. Nervous consumers believe the incoming administration in Washington will quickly move to reinstate the "Assault Weapons Ban" that was allowed to sunset under the Bush administration. In preparation, they're buying - frantically - "pre-ban" rifles and handguns.

Across the country the story is the same: retailers are scrambling to find AR-style rifles, complete, or in parts and pieces. Only one small problem - the supply channels are dried up and manufacturers tell me they're scrambling at full-time, full-capacity levels to meet the demand.

On hand, but not for long. At Mark's Outdoor Sports in Birmingham, Alabama, customers are asking for AR-style rifles, semi auto pistols and "sniper style rifles." It's the same story across the country, with demand definitely outpacing inventories in most locations.

At the companies manufacturing the now in-demand rifles, phones are ringing off the hooks as wholesalers look for new supplies. As one of the country's major independent retailers told me, "I've never had to ask for these rifles before, they've always been available with a phone call. Today, I'm asking."

Until two weeks ago, demand for these guns was described as steady. Since the election, however, it has been increasing to the point that potential buyers are calling gun stores before they go, making certain that an AR - any AR is in stock.

As one marketing director said, "they're gorging themselves on rifles, pistols and ammunition."

Unfortunately, some in the industry are taking advantage of that high demand and, simply stated, jacking up the prices of their guns, ammo and accessories. For Mark Whitlock of Mark's Outdoors in Birmingham, Alabama that is simply not acceptable. "I had a call from a distributor wanting to sell me AR-style rifles at a way higher price that before," Whitlock said, "I told him we didn't raise our prices the last time it looked like a ban was coming, and we weren't going to raise them today."

"I told him not to call me back," said Whitlock, "ever. That's just not the way we're ever going to do business. No one's ever going to come in here with a gun and say they paid an outrageous price for it - at least not from me."

With a retail location that's been chosen among America's top independent sporting good retailers for several consecutive years, Whitlock is taking the long view. To do otherwise, he says, is not a long-term strategy, it's price-gouging.

Whatever it's called, it is certainly happening in many parts of the country, with small retailers taking advantage of the demand to turn quick profits.

Consumers aren't happy at the development, but they're paying up rather than risk not having guns or ammo should a ban be among the first acts taken by the Obama administration. We're hearing that it's not on the first order of business, but it's certainly not far down the To-Do list of the new administration.

In other areas of the outdoors, there are envious glances, but no one outside the gun business is eager for that sort of regulatory threat.