WASHINGTON – The rush was on at Valley Gun in Parkville following Monday’s expiration of the federal assault weapons ban.
But it wasn’t customers clamoring for new firearms that owner Sandy Abrams had to deal with: It was journalists looking for a mad rush of customers that never developed.
“I’ve got a cameraman and an interviewer here, other than that it’s just me and my employees,” said Abrams, who is also the vice president of the Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association. “There’s your rush.”
Even if a customer asked for weapons with previously illegal features, Abrams said he would not likely see those guns in his shop for weeks or perhaps months because manufacturers had “product in the pipeline that they have to sell first.”
But while Abrams and other Maryland gun dealers reported business as usual this week, manufacturers have been taking steps to make previously banned weapons available to customers.
Accokeek-based Beretta USA began offering two high-capacity magazines — previously illegal — for free with the purchase of some guns once the ban expired. Illinois-based Armalite instituted a “pre-paid pre-ban” program that let customers order what would have been an illegal rifle under the ban. The gun was then rapidly assembled and shipped after the ban expired.
Gun-control groups said that, even if buyers were not rushing into gun shops, the influx of new weapons and high-capacity magazines undermines the spirit of the ban which was to reduce the supply of certain types of weapons, namely the original versions of the AK-47, Uzi and TEC-9, over time.
“The guns that are available now are the guns most prized by criminals,” said Daniel Vice, an attorney with the Brady Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. “The longer you cut off the supply, the more and more the supply declines.”
But at Atlantic Firearms in Bishopville, company president Blaine Bunting said there has always been a supply. His store was offering high-capacity magazines and assault rifles for sale on its Web site last week because they were manufactured pre-ban and therefore never prohibited from sale.
“A lot of people have this misconception that with the assault weapons ban expiring, these mags and guns are going to be available,” Bunting said. “We’ve been selling AR-15s the whole time. We’ve been selling AK(-47)s and Uzis the whole time.”
Vice said that programs such as Beretta’s and Armalite’s show that manufacturers found ways to get weapons and ammunition on the street relatively quickly.
“It doesn’t look like any of them are having any trouble meeting demand today,” he said.
But Armalite President Mark Westrom called his company’s program “a very obscure, minor program,” and estimated he had received about 80 orders for pre-ban rifles, adding that the guns would be desired mostly by collectors. He said he would ship the first rifles within two weeks.
In Maryland, state police say that not much has changed with the lifting of the ban.
State law still requires a seven-day waiting period and a background check to buy handguns and assault-style weapons, and people can only purchase only one of those guns per month, said Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a Maryland State Police spokesman. Sporting shotguns and rifles are exempt from those restrictions.
While the federal ban against magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition has been lifted, Maryland law still outlaws magazines larger than 20 rounds.
Rouse could not say how often assault-style weapons were used in crimes in the state. But he said that 33 of the 557 weapons that state police seized in the first eight months of 2003 met the federal definition of an assault weapon.
Ban or no ban, Abrams said the same guns will always be available in some form.
“That’s like saying to Ford, you can’t have a light bar on your Explorer, so they just take off the light bar,” he said. “They don’t stop making the Explorer.”
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