WASHINGTON – Thirty-six hours after the Obama administration banned importation of the classic brand of AK-47 assault rifles as part of sanctions against Russia, a Maryland dealer specializing in the weapon took stock of its inventory.
There was nothing left.
Laboring almost nonstop, workers at Atlantic Firearms in Bishopville, a Worcester County community on the Eastern Shore, had shipped hundreds of Russian-made AK-47s – an assault rifle prized by both consumers and despots – as buyers wiped out gun dealers’ inventories around the country. The frenzy was brought on, in part, by a suspicion among some gun owners that the Russia-Ukraine conflict was a back-door excuse to ban guns many Democrats don’t like. The gun community moved very, very quickly, said Blaine Bunting, president of Atlantic Firearms. I don’t see this ban going away.
The AK-47 buying frenzy presents yet another example of the paradoxical consequence of trying to limit gun sales: booming demand. During the debate over the measure commonly called the Brady Bill in the 1990s, gun purchases skyrocketed. When the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006, sales soared again. When President Barack Obama tried to pass sweeping gun control laws after the 2012 Sandy Hook School shooting, some dealers sold out of ammunition.
The great irony here is that the threat of regulation has the perverse effect of stimulating sales, and not just by a little, said Philip Cook, a Duke University gun researcher and author of The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know. The numbers are impressive. You have millions of extra sales.
For gun dealers, the threat of increased regulations is frequently seen as a form of economic stimulus. But the surge in sales troubles advocates of gun control, who fear some buyers will flip their purchases in private sales at gun shows or through online auction sites, where background checks aren’t required.
This has for decades worried people on my end of the business, said Stephen Teret, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University who studies firearms. This is a way for guns to move from the licit to illicit markets.
Gun control advocates struggle with the unintended consequences of restricting or banning weapons. It might mean a sudden increase of guns in the hands of people who didn’t have those guns before, Teret said, but you may want to accept that short-term problem for a long-term gain by banning a high-powered gun.