Gun and ammunition sales in Fairbanks have been high for several months. The locally booming firearms market reflects a national trend; more Americans are purchasing weapons, many for the first time.
The demand for ammunition has also increased, so much so that manufacturers are struggling to produce enough. Owners of Fairbanks gun shops attribute the increased interest in guns and ammo to Joe Biden’s presidency as well as to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has both spawned uncertainty and disrupted the supply chain.
“It’s a great time to be in the gun business,” said Mike Altherr, owner and operator of Iron and Wood Vintage Firearms.
According to Altherr, there was “no less than a 100-125% increase in gun sales last year,” a trend that has continued in 2021. Sales are up among all types of firearms, from automatic weapons to hunting rifles. In fact, business is going so well that Altherr’s only limit is inventory.
“If I could keep my shelves full every day, we would set a new record every month,” he said.
The main limitation is ammunition. Nationally, there has been a 300-500% increase in ammo purchases, Altherr reported. Some shop owners have had to limit ammo sales; Altherr, for example, has had to ration some common calibers.
Altherr said the initial uptick in firearm purchases began with the first round of stimulus checks, but he attributes the increase primarily to the political environment and specifically to Biden, who announced several executive orders to end gun violence in early April.
Having Biden in office has sparked panic among Second Amendment supporters, according to Altherr.
“Every time Joe Biden opens his mouth, I sell another hundred guns,” he said. “Americans are absolutely worried about losing their rights ... and so they’re buying as much as they can possibly get their hands on right now.”
Altherr said that a similar phenomenon occurred when Barack Obama first took office for the same reason. On the other hand, gun sales were actually dropping under the Donald Trump administration.
“Guns are a lot more political than they should be, and that is what’s driving sales,” he said.
While some of Altherr’s customers are gun owners who want to stock up, he has also noticed a “huge uptick” of sales to first-time gun buyers. The demographic with the greatest increase has been young women, he said.
“Obviously some of it is politics,” said Alaskan Gun and Ammo owner Steve Smith. But Smith believes there are other causes as well. As he pointed out, Biden is not the first president to threaten to implement gun control measures.
Smith believes high sales can be traced to three central causes: the first is that Remington filed for bankruptcy, which reduced inventory; the second is the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the supply chain; and finally to the political environment.
“So many things came to a head at one time,” he said.
Smith has been selling more guns than usual, a trend he first noticed about 18 months ago. While his sales are up, he has found that people are reluctant to trade in their guns.
“I’d sell more if I could get my hands on them,” Smith said. Fewer people are bringing Smith old guns and, due to supply-chain disruptions, it is harder to get new guns; Smith’s inventory is down by about 200 firearms. He has also seen more first-time gun buyers inquiring about firearms, which he believes is related to the potential of new gun laws.
Gold Rush Trading Post owner Jerry Shores said gun sales are on the upswing, but he has noticed a recent taper due to the ammunition shortage. Like Smith, Shores reported that the increase coincided with the start of the pandemic over a year ago. He believes the cause is the general uncertainty related to the pandemic as well as to riots. The riots last summer, he said, led many people — particularly new gun owners — to purchase weapons for protection.
To add to the general unrest and uncertainty, Shores said that people are now concerned their Second Amendment rights will be limited. So even though they’ve never wanted to own a firearm now, “They feel it’s a necessity,” Shores said.
The desire for security is also apparent in increased interest in personal protection classes.
Layne Lewis with the Tanana Valley Sportsmen’s Association, an organization that promotes gun safety and education, said handgun and other personal protective classes are filling up faster than normal. He attributes popularity to general uncertainty, both due to the pandemic and to the new president.
“No one knows what he’s going to do,” Lewis said of Biden. In response, he said, people have been “overreacting” by purchasing as many guns and as much ammo as possible, a phenomenon he compared to the bulk purchases of toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic.
Contact reporter Maisie Thomas at 459-7544.