Demand High At San Francisco Firearms Show As Nation Mulls Gun Control

Concerns about new gun control measures has many weapons flying off the shelves. At one recent gun show in San Francisco, assault rifles were in short supply even though their prices had skyrocketed.

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President Obama says he'll lay out his plans for new gun control measures in the next few days. At his White House news conference today, Mr. Obama said he was looking at actions he could take on his own, in addition to those that would involve Congress. Weeks of gun control talk has sent demand for firearms and ammunition sky-high.

NPR's Richard Gonzales went to one of the largest traveling gun shows in the country this weekend, as it stopped in San Francisco, and sent this report.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: I'm standing in front of the Cow Palace. It's one of San Francisco's oldest public venues, and it's hosting the San Francisco Gun Show. There's a line of a couple thousand people winding through the parking lot. And the line of cars just to get into the parking lot, is about six blocks long.

ROBERT GONZALES: Yeah, it's packed in there. It's bumper to bumper in there.

RICHARD GONZALES: This gun show doesn't allow recording inside. So I talked with people coming out; like Robert Gonzales, a truck driver and hunter.

ROBERT GONZALES: Everybody's freaked out right now. So who knows?

RICHARD GONZALES: So what are they freaked out about?

ROBERT GONZALES: They're just - they are freaked out that they're not going to be able to buy, you know, weapons, I guess - you know? Because I've been coming to this Cow Palace for years, and I've never seen it this bad.

RICHARD GONZALES: Gun dealers say sales jumped just after President Obama was re-elected; and they took off in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings. Now, as the president is preparing to outline his gun control proposals, the demand is red hot.

ROBERT TEMPLETON: Never have we seen a surge like this.

RICHARD GONZALES: That's Bob Templeton, owner of the company called Crossroads of the West, which operates this gun show here in California as well as others in Arizona, Nevada and Utah.

TEMPLETON: Most of the stores - most of the retail stores, in most areas that we've been doing shows in, have been sold out. The Wal-Marts, and the Big 5s, and the other sporting goods stores don't have any of the more popular rounds of ammunition on their shelves. And so people are coming out to the gun shows in order to get their ammunition.

RICHARD GONZALES: In fact, I saw people coming out of this gun show with so much ammo, they needed a dolly to wheel it back to their cars. This run on guns and ammo is happening across the country. At Jefferson Gun Outlet in Metairie, Louisiana, owner Mike Mayer says buyers are mainly looking for AR-15s, the semiautomatic rifle used in the Newtown shootings.

MIKE MAYER: They're just worried that something's going to change legally, where they can't go out and buy something like that. They can possibly get it now, and have it and keep it, and then not have to worry about any future legislation.

RICHARD GONZALES: Mayer says ammo and high-capacity magazines for the AR-15 sell out as soon as he puts them on the shelf. As for the AR itself, it's a seller's market.

MAYER: For a standard AR, they - something that we would sell normally for $899, is selling right now for about 1,850 - give or take.

RICHARD GONZALES: The most widely used, although not perfect, measure for tracking gun sales is the FBI's national database on criminal background checks. According to an analysis by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - a gun industry trade group - there were more than 2.2 million background checks in December of last year. That's an increase of more than 58 percent over a year earlier. Nima Samadi, a gun industry analyst for the research firm IBISWorld, says gun makers are scrambling to keep up with demand.

NIMA SAMADI: They've kind of turned to increasing their number of shifts, giving current employees overtime; and even they've had some struggles with their supply chain trying to get, you know, all the necessary supplies to build the guns and ammunition as quickly as possible.

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RICHARD GONZALES: Back in San Francisco, gun show operator Bob Templeton says the diminishing supply could hurt his show in the short term, but he sees no end in sight to the demand, even in a liberal region like the San Francisco Bay area.

TEMPLETON: I think it's driving that surge - is people's concern that they won't be able to exercise their hobby, or they won't be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights if the politicians - some of the politicians in Washington have their way.

RICHARD GONZALES: Attendance at gun shows like this one are way up, and Templeton says he expects his final tally will be about 18,000 people - or three times the number of people he would see normally.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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