Yesterday, when we described the unprecedented surge in gun sales in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, we said that "what is most ironic, is that it is precisely the fear of forced, unilateral rejection, by either or all three branches of government, of the original constitution and its various amendments that has Americans scrambling into gun stores. And thus the closed loop nature of the problem: by threatening to take away America's guns, the government is only exacerbating a problem that is steeped in 200+ years of history and is engrained deep in American psychology." It took about 24 hours to demonstrate just how counterproductive government intervention always is: as of this moment, Bloomberg reports, Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the US and the world, has stores in at least five states where guns are now completely out of stock.
With President Barack Obama endorsing sweeping gun restrictions in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, prices for handgun magazines are surging on EBay (EBAY) and semi-automatic rifles are sold out at many Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) locations.
Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said yesterday that it would continue to sell guns, including rifles like the one used at Newtown, where 26 people, most of them children, were killed on Dec. 14. By contrast, Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. (DKS) suspended sales of similar guns at its more than 500 stores.
Searches of five kinds of semi-automatic rifles on Wal- Mart’s website showed them to be out of stock at stores in five states, including Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama. Wal-Mart doesn’t sell guns online, instead asking customers to input a zip code to see if their local store carries a specific weapon.
“We remain dedicated to the safe and responsible sale of firearms in areas of the country where they are sold,” David Tovar, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said yesterday. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on this story.
Wal-Mart has about 10 modern sporting rifles, the gun industry’s term for firearms that look like an M-16 military rifle, listed on its website. The retailer removed a description and picture of the Bushmaster AR-15, which was the model used in Newtown, after the shootings.
Who benefits from the government's pseudo intervention? None other than the uber-wealthy Walton family.
The move may have helped as U.S. Wal-Mart stores posted their first gain in same-store sales in more than two years in October 2011. Wal-Mart doesn’t disclose how many guns it sells, though at an analysts’ meeting in October it said gun revenue gained 76 percent in the first half of this fiscal year. The chain advertised a Sig Sauer M400 as one of its Black Friday doorbusters last month, offering the rifle for $50 off at $867.
It gets worse: now that guns are transforming from a commoditized to a niche, collectible product, whose future is unclear due to what the government may or may not do, the supply, demand dynamics have shifted massively in favor of the side that pushes the equilibrium price higher (just so even central-planning economists understand this).
On EBay Inc.'s auction website, shoppers have recently bid up gun magazines. The current bid for four Glock handgun magazines, ammunition for one of the guns used at Newtown, is $118.37 compared with $45 on the day before the shooting. The bid for seven Glock magazines hit $201 on Dec. 17 from $71.01 before the massacre.
Gun buyers have flooded other firearms retailers too. The Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, North Carolina, racked up more than $1 million in sales yesterday for the best single-day performance since the store opened in 1959, according to Justin Anderson, director of online sales. At the top of shoppers’ lists was the Bushmaster AR-15, the model of rifle used at Newtown that sells for as much as $4,000 and had almost sold out, he said.
Revenue at one of the largest U.S. gun stores surpassed even the spike just after Obama was elected president in 2008, Anderson said in a telephone interview. Sales weren’t as robust when Obama was re-elected last month because the president hadn’t backed major new gun laws, he said.
While we have no interest in pursuing any of the ethical sides of this argument, we do know that the more the government intervenes, even if it is with the noblest intentions, the greater the adverse and negative fallout will be. And, in typical government fashion, the more it pushes to get its way (or the highway) the greater the tragic consequences result in a country which - by dint of simply what it is - has over 300 million weapons. Good luck and godspeed with any hopes of "controlling" them.