By Robert F. Kay – In the past several months the AR-15 rifle has gone from the most popular firearm in the country to the most infamous.
Among many people, it is now the most sought after.
As has been extensively reported, following the presidential election and Sandy Hook, national (and Hawaii) sales of “black guns” have gone ballistic. A December 23 Star Advertiser story reported that OGC Tactical, a Kalihi gun store that specializes in black guns, had a ten-fold increase in sales in the week following the announcement of President Obama’s gun control task force.
Not surprisingly, the sales spike precipitated a block long line of gun owners snaking along Beretania Street, waiting patiently to register their newly purchased arms with the Honolulu Police Department.
How many AR 15s, or in gun industry parlance “Modern Sport Rifles”, are there are in Hawaii?
Numbers from the NRA report that, from 1986 to 2007, at least 1,626,525 AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles were produced in this country and recent press accounts have put the current number closer to 5 million. Suffice it to say, there are thousands of AR 15s in Hawaii and more are on the way.
Al Mongeon, owner of “Ready on the Right”, an “FFL” or Federal Firearms Licensee has seen a marked increase in the sales of AR 15 style rifles over the last two years among his clients (who purchase them from Mainland sellers). Mongeon said “about 80 percent” of the guns that come through his door are AR 15 variants. Prior to that, he said, the numbers of AR 15 rifles represented about 30- to-35 percent of his business.
Mongeon’s deal flow is a reasonable AR 15 sales barometer. Under Federal law, firearms from the Mainland must be shipped through a Hawaii FFL, an interlocutor, such as Mongeon.
What accounts for the increased AR 15 volume ? Mongeon was vague but surmised that his clients may have been concerned that at some future date they may not be able to buy these types of guns.
However, you don’t need Ward Research to gauge the popularity of these rifles among active shooters. A short visit the municipally operated Koko Head Shooting Complex on any weekend will provide you with all the empirical evidence you need. My own very unscientific poll over the past several months found that on any given day approximately 40 percent of the shooters used AR 15s or other military-style firearms
So who exactly are these people?
A national survey by the NSSF, the gun industry trade group found:
- The typical MSR owner is 35-plus years old, married and has some college education.
- Nearly half (44 percent) of MSR owners are current or former military or law enforcement members.
- 39 percent of all MSR owners purchased their most recent MSR at an independent retail store, with the average purchase price being $1,083.
Do the NSSF numbers correlate with what we might expect to find in Hawaii? Taking the gun industry’s data at face value, I’d say yes—at least from anecdotal evidence.
Take Brandon Leong, a construction company estimator, a 40-something hunter and long time AR 15 enthusiast. The Windward resident said his friends who shoot ARs include ranchers, firefighters, State of Hawaii employees, architects and engineers.
The people I know who own AR 15s (or similar military-style) EBRs (Evil Black Rifles) include a an Ivy league educated attorney, an IT professional employed at UH, a self-employed photographer, and a former police officer.
The NSSF poll stated that 44 percent of MSR owners are current or former military or law enforcement members and that rings true in Hawaii. Just engaging people at the range, I found a large number of Hawaii AR 15 enthusiasts to be former (or active duty) service members who learned how to shoot the military version of the AR 15 (the M16A2/M4). It’s only natural they would want to own the civilian variant of the rifle that they were already familiar with.
Concomitant with the average age and college-education that the NSSF survey attributes to AR owners, is the high cost of the gun. These aren’t cheap Saturday night specials. Prior to the Sandy Hook madness, lower-end, entry level AR 15s averaged between $900 and $1,000. Now they fetch prices 20 to 50 percent higher—if you can find them new at all. Never, it seems has demand been stronger and product availability weaker.
David Larson, Marketing Director of New Britain, Connecticut-based, Stag Arms said demand for their AR 15 rifles has resulted in a 12 month back order. Demand for accessories such as butt stocks, grips, and in particular magazines, has been equally strong. Dylan Saunders, a sales and marketing officer for the Mako Group, which imports Israeli made products, described the environment as “frantic”. Saunders said he gets emails from impatient customers two or three times a day expecting their magazines to be shipped immediately. “We’re behind six to twelve weeks on shipping out product”, he said. The former army sniper said he has practice a great deal of self control to assuage clients.
If you’re interested in tracking the recent AR 15 price fluctuations, check out blogger Nick Leghorn’s Charting the Price of an AR-15 During the Great AWB Panic.
Ammunition is in short supply and even for those who load their own ammo, bullets, powder and primers are also hard to come by. At Young Guns a brick (1000 rifle primers) that cost $27 a year ago, is now priced at $45. When I asked Security Equipment, a venerable gun shop on Young Street when their next shipment of gun powder or primers would come in, the salesman shrugged as if to say “Quien Sabe?”.
The upshot: Gun enthusiasts in Hawaii, will simply have to wait for new inventory to appear in local shops. They may be waiting a while to new guns and gear.
How about a deal on a good used AR 15?
Not likely. They are out there but if you want to purchase a used AR 15 in Hawaii you’ll have to pay a premium. According to the classified section of 2ahawaii.com, a local website, the rifles command prices of anywhere from $,1400 on up.
The upshot: As the NSSF survey implies, you need discretionary income to afford an AR. Now, you’ll need even more.
What accounts for the rifle’s popularity in the Aloha State?
It’s both fun and comfortable to shoot. Recoil is minimal and the gun is wickedly accurate. With a little practice, even a rank beginner can ring the at 400 yard gong at Kokohead.
They are easy to assemble, which makes them popular with hobbyists. You can literally assemble one in your garage. (More on that in a future article).
It’s ridiculously simple to change calibers.
The lower receiver (which houses the trigger and magazine) and the upper receiver (which houses the barrel) are fastened with two pins, which can be removed in a matter of seconds.
Thus you can swap out different calibers almost instantly. You can use your .22 caliber upper to shoot at the silhouette range at Kokohead and in the time it takes to check your email, change out a larger barrel to go pig hunting.
What else do local people (as well as mainland enthusiasts) like about the AR platform?
The guns are also infinitely customizable. Hawaii people love to customize their cars, their computers, their iphones, and evidently, their rifles. (Isn’t that the American way?)
Unlike a traditional hunting rifle, where you’ll need to pay a gunsmith $100 an hour to put on a new scope or a new barrel, it’s relatively simple to build an AR 15 from the ground up in a matter of hours or less. What’s more you can personalize it with aftermarket sights, stocks, triggers, flashlights, fore grips, buttstocks, etc.
Brandon Leong, the Windward construction estimator, has built his own AR 15 and likens it to building “a model airplane”. He was able to assemble his rifle in a matter of hours. Leong is typical of many AR owners. He likes to tinker with his guns, changing out the scope, the grips and most recently “floating” the barrel for accuracy.
It’s as American as apple pie.
It’s also clearly an addicting hobby, the kind of past time that many Hawaii people find pleasurable. Perhaps even your next door neighbor.