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Newtown massacre: US races to stock up on weapons ahead of potential new federal ban

Rather than recoiling from the gun, Americans are emptying stores of ‘sporting rifles’ while online prices soar

As Newtown continued to mourn its dead yesterday and a Presidential task force convened to consider how to tackle America’s firearms addiction, much of the rest of the country was busy stripping gun-shop shelves bare of any items that might be prohibited by a new federal ban.

Independent gun-shop owners such as Austin Cook of Hoover Tactical Firearms in Alabama reported a stampede of customers anxious to buy assault rifles like the one used by Adam Lanza to kill 26 people, including 20 young children, at a Newtown primary school. Lanza also killed his mother and himself. “I can’t keep them in the store,” Mr Cook said of the weapons.

It is a sad tradition in America that each mass shooting is followed by a surge in gun sales, in part because people calculate they need more firepower to protect themselves. That explains why the days since last Friday have also seen a surge in sales of special backpacks for school children lined with bullet-proof material. Their manufacturers allege they work well as shields in classroom firefights.

Now, however, there is the added fear among gun enthusiasts that new restrictions are around the corner and they had better get the weapons they covet before it’s too late.

President Barack Obama endorsed the reintroduction of an assault weapons ban on Wednesday that expired nine years ago and created a task force to look at other ways to make sure  massacres such as last Friday’s don’t happen again. Since then, sales have soared further.

“A lot of people have been coming in looking to purchase semi-automatic rifles,” confirmed Aaron Byrd, of Shooting Sports in North Carolina, which has sold out of the type of rifle Lanza carried as well as the magazines and the bullets that go with them. “They’re worried that the government’s going to ban semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, so they’ve been coming in looking for those”.

Stocks of so-called “sporting rifles” are meanwhile exhausted at Wal-Mart locations in parts of the country, Bloomberg News reported. The company removed the advertising specifically for the Bushmaster type of rifle that Lanza used to kill his victims from its web pages this week while Dick’s Sporting Goods, with 500 outlets nationwide, has for now stopped selling sporting rifles altogether.

On eBay’s US auction website late on Wednesday, the bidding for four Glock handgun magazines – ammunition for one of the guns used at the Sandy Hook shooting – had reached $118.37, compared with another sale on the day before the shooting which only reached $45, Bloomberg reported.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, the director of online sales at the Hyatt Gun Shop said the store had already surpassed $1m in sales on Tuesday – the best single-day performance since the store opened in 1959 – as customers anticipated Mr Obama’s announcement.

With funeral services and wakes being held each day this week for the victims of the massacre, some Newtown residents have formed a group dedicated to making sure  hat this time something actually happens in Washington to make gun laws tighter.

“The most important thing is to build a movement here, to build a network,” Chris Murphy, who is soon to become Connecticut’s junior US Senator, told the group.

The Attorney General, Eric Holder, was to travel to Newtown last night to meet lead investigators of the shooting, while in Washington, Vice-President Joe Biden opened the first meeting of the task force announced by Mr Obama.

The plan is to nail down a set of measures, likely to include a new assault weapons ban, for Mr Obama to unveil in his State of the Union address at the end of January.

All eyes this morning, meanwhile, will be on a press conference by the powerful National Rifle Association which so far has issued only a brief statement saying it would contribute to the debate on how to ensure massacres like last Friday’s don’t happen again. While a number of moderate Democrats on Capitol Hill have rushed to endorse a tightening of gun laws, Republicans have largely remained silent on the topic.