HUNTSVILLE, Alabama — Around 1 p.m., the line out the door stretched 60 or 70 people long. But waits were running only 25 to 30 minutes, as customers steadily streamed out of Larry’s Pistol & Pawn laden with Ruger rifles and boxes of Hornady cartridges.
Huntsville police said they’d been stationed outside since 9 a.m. to handle the overflow traffic.
The fifth month of a nationwide run on guns has resulted in retail shortages in ammunition and increases in firearm prices. But Larry’s held a two-day sale, today and tomorrow, drawing thousands of customers to the north Huntsville store.
Some Ruger pistols were marked down $50 or $60. All manner of Hornady ammunition, from the Zombie Max rounds to the .410 buckshot, was discounted about 25 percent.
And Larry’s, for two days, lifted the limits on how much ammo one person could buy at a time.
“Unless somebody is ridiculous,” said Larry Barnett, owner of the store, saying he had been selling one box per day per item for each customer. That is suspended, he said, unless someone tries to buy hundreds of boxes of ammo at once.
Barnett said the Ruger sale is an annual promotional event and that he had been planning it since last spring. But he acknowledged that the national mood changed in December and that has spiked interest. FBI firearm background checks for March were up 50 percent or more in every single state over October.
“Everything has to do with the climate,” said Barnett.
Many customers dropped a couple bucks into a large plastic bottle promised to the local chapter of the National Rifle Association, which has been busy lobbying Congress as gun control legislation has moves toward the Republican-led House. Current legislation focuses on increased background checks, rather than many of the broader firearm restrictions discussed in December immediately after the Newtown school shooting.
Alabama led the national run on guns in the wake of the shooting, seeing 145 percent spike in background checks between October, the last full month before the presidential election, and December, when the Newtown school shooting spurred talk of gun control. But the numbers of background checks have since tapered off in Alabama, and across most of the South, as many buyers report difficulty in finding certain items on store shelves.
On Friday, Larry’s boasted an unusually broad selection. Crowds responded in mass, as an employee at the door admitted individual customers into the store only as others exited.
“The Ruger event we do with Larry every year is probably the biggest in the country,” said Christopher Killoy, vice president of sales for Ruger, which is based in Connecticut.
Killoy, who was in Huntsville, said the annual event is always packed. Indeed, a special set of engraved pistols by the checkout counter marks the Huntsville outlet as Ruger’s retailer of the year for 2009.
Barnett estimated the store saw 2,000 customers per day in 2012. But this year’s event was far more crowded, said Barnett. Killoy pointed to some hard to find items, including certain scope-mounted rifles, that were set aside for the sale.
Killoy said Ruger is making more firearms now than at any point in history. “But demand has outstripped supply,” said Killoy.
Charles Dunkin, whose agency represents Hornady ammunition, said the Huntsville gun sale draws customers from across the state, as well as Georgia and Tennessee.