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Since the elementary-school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, gun sales have soared as elected officials around the country contemplate new restrictions on gun ownership. Paranoid gun owners have rushed to stock up on guns they think will be banned. They've spread (unfounded) rumors that Walmart, the nation's largest gun retailer, is going to stop selling ammo. All of the panic has prompted something of a run on gun supplies.
The frenzy has been lucrative for the people who make and sell small arms and ammo, but those poor schmucks who just need more shells for the assault weapons they already own are suddenly discovering the dark side of capitalism. In a strange bit of irony, gun owners who helped fuel the post-Newtown surge in sales are now shocked to discover that they're being overcharged. Gun blogs and message boards are full of posts like "i got price gouged," wherein Blue Cow at the Indiana Gun Owners forum writes:
i went to Lens ammo shop on Michigan street in South Bend today. Three days ago a brick of 22LR (500 rounds) of blazer was $20. Today I go to Lens after work and said I would like a brick of 22LR, he went and got it, rang me up and said "That will be $35." I said "What? It was $20 three days ago!!!" Len said "That was last weeks prices, everybody else is gouging so I should make a buck doing it to."
The day I received my CheaperThanDirt catalog I called to place an order. I was interested in the loose 1,000 round case of Eagle .223 for $399.95. The sales rep answers with a price of $999.95. I let her know I'm looking at the catalog with the price of $399.95. With a very snooty and unsympathetic voice, she refers me to the right margin of page 57 which says they can change the price based on "market." If a hardware store charges $100 for a sheet of plywood in advance of a storm, they can be fined and/or jailed. Why is there not something to stop price gouging on ammo?
The complaints about price gouging, though, aren't getting an especially sympathetic response, especially from other gun owners. Many seem to take a dim view of anyone who actually pays such inflated prices. One person responding to Blue Cow in Indiana retorted, "All the whining about prices is getting old." The California poster got several economics lectures about supply and demand. "This is the United States, not the old Soviet Union. Price controls do not belong here," one poster replied.
The price-gouging may have an upside, though not for the gun lovers: It might help keep sales in check—at least temporarily—while Congress gets around to thinking about thinking about considering an assault-weapon ban.