Gun Retailers Anticipate Sales Crash, Despite Record Gains

Northwest Armory
Northwest Armory Milwaukie's Sig Sauer Elite Store Display

Without permit protocols in place, gun retailers could be unable to sell product after December 8.

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For a business owner whose sales has quadrupled in the last month, Karl Durkheimer, doesn’t sound excited.

“Forty to 50 percent of our sales come from Oregonians buying firearms, and on Dec. 8 you will not be able to buy a gun in the state of Oregon,” says Durkheimer, who co-owns of Northwest Armory in Tigard and Milwaukie. “We’ve had customers we’ve serviced for 30 years. We have employees who have been with us for over a decade. How can I not be concerned about it?”

This November the backlog of background checks for firearm sales has increased to 24,000, about double what it was last year. That number is from the Oregon State Police Firearms Instant Check System, which conducts background checks every time someone attempts to buy a gun from a federally licensed Oregon gun dealer.

Earlier this month, Oregon voters approved Measure 114, under which prospective gun owners will need to apply to a county sheriff’s office for a permit that lasts five years. To get the permit, they’ll have to pay a $65 fee, provide fingerprints and complete gun safety training on top of undergoing a criminal background check. gun. The law also bans sales of magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. State police initially believed the law would take effect 30 days from certification — Dec. 15 — but now say they expect it to take effect Dec. 8.

Durkheimer says his stores have seen a massive increase in sales volume this month, but believes he will lose half his business overnight.

The Oregon Firearms Federation has filed a lawsuit challenging the measure as unconstitutional, and four Oregon sheriffs have announced they will not enforce the law.

He says no applications for a firearms permit from local law enforcement currently exist, and expressed skepticism the Oregon legislature would be able to get permit guidelines out to local law enforcement in a reasonable amount of time.

“There’s going to have to be a meeting of civic leaders to develop this application,” says Durkheimer. “My guess is in three months, they won’t even have the template for the application. I mean, think about how fast government moves.”

Supporters of the measure say it’s not necessarily true that sales will stop after Dec. 8.

“Sales will not halt because permits cannot be required until (Oregon State Police) develops the rules and finalizes the standardized form to apply,’’ Anthony Johnson, a spokesman for the Measure 114 campaign, told The Oregonian. That’s not in the measure text, but Johnson says a legislative mandate or executive order could easily clarify that the status quo needs to remain in effect while a permitting system is developed.

Michael Findlay, director of government affairs for the Firearm Industry Trade Association, says the language of Measure 114 is too vague to ensure anyone submitting for a background check through the Oregon State Patrol will get their firearm before the measure takes effect.

“The real question is: If someone started that process before the 8th, and they’re in the backlog, can that transfer still occur? The backlog is so large, over 15,000 people. Likely they’ll need legislative intervention on this,” says Findlay. “There’s no protocol or permit system that exists right now.”

Findlay says larger sporting goods stores will likely be able to survive the dry spell. His concern was for smaller retailers that could be driven out of business due to the lengthy process of developing the permit application and developing protocols for how to treat backlogged customers.

“The legislature is not in session until February, then if they pass something the governor still needs to sign it. If you’re a business, and your sole product is firearm sales, you’re going three to five months without being able to sell products. So that is the biggest impact,” says Findlay.

Durkheimer was not as concerned about the 10-round magazine limit. He says 10-round magazines for a variety of weapons already exist, and that they will likely become more popular in Oregon if the law takes effect.

But Durkheimer says he has been preparing for a law like Measure 114 for some time. Over the last five years, he has made online sales bigger portion of his operation. Only half his business currently comes from sales to Oregonians – a sizable chunk, but less so than for other retailers.

“You can’t be a successful businessman if you’re not forward thinking,” he says.

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