Assault rifle sales go through the roof as gun taskforce begins work

As Newtown continued to mourn its dead yesterday and a presidential taskforce convened to consider how to tackle America's firearms addiction, much of the rest of the country was busy stripping gun shop shelves bare of any items that might be prohibited by a new federal ban.

Independent gun shop owners such as Austin Cook of Hoover Tactical Firearms in Alabama reported a stampede of customers anxious to buy assault rifles like the one used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 young children, at a Newtown primary school. Lanza also killed his mother and himself.

"I can't keep them in the store," Cook said of the weapons.

It is a sad tradition in America that each mass shooting is followed by a surge in gun sales, in part because people calculate they need more firepower to protect themselves.


That explains why since last Saturday there has also been a surge in sales of special backpacks for school children lined with bullet-proof material. Their manufacturers allege they work well as shields in classroom firefights.

Now, however, there is the added fear among gun enthusiasts that new restrictions are around the corner and they had better get the weapons they covet before it's too late.

President Barack Obama endorsed the reintroduction of an assault weapons ban on Thursday that expired nine years ago and created a taskforce to look at other ways to make sure similar massacres don't happen again.

"A lot of people have been coming in looking to purchase semi-automatic rifles," confirmed Aaron Byrd, of Shooting Sports in North Carolina, which has sold out of the type of rifle Lanza carried as well as the magazines and the bullets that go with them. "They're worried that the Government's going to ban semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, so they've been coming in looking for those".

Stocks of so-called "sporting rifles" are meanwhile exhausted at Wal-Mart locations in parts of the country, Bloomberg News reported.

The company removed advertising specifically for the Bushmaster rifle that Lanza used from its web pages this week while Dick's Sporting Goods, with 500 outlets nationwide, has stopped selling sporting rifles..

On eBay's US auction website late on Thursday, the bidding for four Glock handgun magazines - ammunition for one of the guns used at the Sandy Hook shooting - had reached US$118.37, compared with another sale on the day before the shooting which only reached $45, Bloomberg reported.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the director of online sales at the Hyatt Gun Shop said the store had already surpassed US$1 million in sales on Wednesday - the best single-day performance since the store opened in 1959 - as customers anticipated Obama's announcement.

With funeral services and wakes being held each day this week for the victims of the massacre, some Newtown residents have formed a group dedicated to making sure that this time something actually happens in Washington to make gun laws tighter.

"The most important thing is to build a movement here, to build a network," Chris Murphy, who is soon to become Connecticut's junior US Senator, told the group.

Attorney General Eric Holder was to travel to Newtown yesterday to meet lead investigators of the shooting. In Washington Vice-President Joe Biden opened the first meeting of the taskforce announced by Obama.

The plan is to nail down a set of measures, likely to include a new assault weapons ban, for Obama to unveil in his State of the Union address at the end of January.

- Independent