I spent some time this past weekend manning a table at our local gun show. I was joined by a gunsmith whose services I frequently use, and a gun writer who lives nearby. I had a few guns to sell, and some ammunition, and moved all of them very quickly - far more swiftly than I'd anticipated. From that point of view, it was very successful. However, I noticed a lot going on that wasn't directly related to the business of guns - more about the cultural clash that's growing bigger, wider and deeper by the day in these formerly United States. It was an interesting experience.
First off, visitors to the gun show seemed to have very specific objectives in mind. In more peaceful times, they'd browse the aisles, looking around at random to see if anything took their fancy. This time, a large proportion of them moved more briskly, checking a table to see if what they wanted was on it (and at an affordable price), then moving right along if it wasn't there. Many didn't stay very long if they couldn't find what they wanted.
What they wanted was, overwhelmingly, defensive (rather than sporting) firearms and ammunition. I brought several firearms I'd used over the years to train shooters. Before putting them out on the table, I checked the Internet to get an idea of their current values. I wanted to raise money for other needs, not wait all weekend (or maybe until the next gun show) to squeeze the last penny out of them, so I priced them at plus-or-minus 90-95% of their market value. They disappeared like hot cakes - I don't think I had a gun on the table for more than two hours. For the first time in my experience, there was very little haggling over cost. If buyers found a gun priced fairly, they didn't argue - just dug out their wallet and bought it quickly, before anyone else could. (For three of the guns I sold, there were one or two more buyers waiting impatiently for the first interested person to put it down again. If he bought it, their disappointment was palpable.)
Many of those wandering around were specific about their motivation, too. They weren't afraid to say that they don't trust what might happen if Joe Biden is sworn in as our next President. They're buying now, rather than wait; and, if possible, they're buying off-paper (i.e. private sales) rather than through dealers where a record is kept on file, because they're worried about firearm regulation or confiscation. (Needless to say, they don't intend to comply with any such restrictions.) One man was buying a handgun each as future gifts for his three children, who weren't yet of an age to legally buy their own. He said simply that he wasn't going to let any expletive-deleted politician stop his kids from defending themselves.
Buyers seemed to have a pretty accurate knowledge of market value. They'd clearly done their own research. A few of my guns were bought by other dealers in the room, and promptly reappeared on their tables at higher prices (above what I considered to be their market value). Not one of them sold while I was there. Buyers might want them, but they weren't about to be price-gouged. By the time I left, some of those dealers were glumly reducing prices on their stock, rather than have to sit on it for who knows how long.
It's clear that some gun show dealers are actually gun enthusiasts masquerading as vendors, rather than serious businessmen. I saw one with a pistol-caliber lever-action carbine on his table, for which he wanted $1,099. I told him that was way above its value, but he wasn't interested. "If I wait, I'll get someone to offer $1,000!" Perhaps he will - but while waiting, the money he's got tied up in that gun isn't doing anything for him. It's been on his table for more than a year without selling. If he'd ask $900 and negotiate towards $800-$850, he'd move it within an hour. He wasn't the only seller with unrealistic expectations. Some of them get too attached to their stock, or pay too much for it in a fit of over-enthusiasm. I've lost count of the number of sellers who've told me, over the years, "But I've got $-whatever in it! I can't sell it for less! It's worth a lot more!" A gun, or anything else, is worth precisely as much as someone else is willing to pay for it - not a penny more. Sadly, some people just don't want to hear that, or they refuse to believe it.
Some visitors wandering around, seeking to sell their own guns or trade them for others, wanted ridiculous prices. I've built and/or upgraded several AR-15's, so I know what they're worth. Even given the current shortages, I wouldn't value a home-built AR-15, assembled using "value" or budget parts, at more than about $800-$900 at this time. However, some of these guys wanted $1,500-plus for theirs. When I flatly refused to deal on that basis, they were offended, as if it was somehow my fault. "Don't you know there's an AR-15 shortage?" My response was, "Sure there is, but if you look at that dealer's table over there, he has factory-built, name-brand, decent-quality AR's for less than you want for your home-built, unknown-quantity carbine." They either didn't get it, or ignored reality - and they didn't find buyers for their guns.
Sporting firearms - bolt-action hunting rifles, hunting shotguns, etc. - were very, very slow to move. That's partly because around here, most people have already got theirs; but there's normally a steady trickle of sales to people wanting to upgrade, or buy their kids or spouses something nice for hunting season. This year, not so much. People wanted defensive firearms, and made no bones about it. The same applied to ammunition sales. The ammo shortage is making people desperate for what they need. Popular defensive and military cartridges - 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 5.56mm/.223, 7.62x39mm Russian, 7.62x51mm/.308 - flew off the tables as soon as they were put out, at almost any price. .30-30 ammo was also in big demand, because there are lots of lever-action hunting rifles around here that do double duty as defensive firearms if necessary. All the other normal hunting rounds - .243, .270, .30-06, .308 soft-point, etc. - simply didn't sell much. That's unusual for this part of the world.
(It's uncomfortably comforting, if you know what I mean, to realize that if my writing income collapses, at current prices I can contribute my share of household expenses for some years, just by selling my ammo stash! I don't plan on doing that, though. The way things are going, there's too much chance I might need the bullets more than I need the bucks . . . )
I mentioned that I needed to "raise money for other needs". I'm upgrading my defensive battery of handguns and long guns to make sure they have all the basic equipment and accessories I may need. The current situation in this country gives me little cause for optimism. I expect Antifa/BLM violence to increase, and perhaps erupt into localized civil war in our cities if the election result doesn't go their way. I also expect criminal violence to increase, because our economy is still in very poor shape, and I don't believe enough government assistance will be forthcoming to make up for lost ground. What's more, if Joe Biden becomes President, he's already announced that illegal immigrants will basically be given free rein. Many of them will bring crime and violence with them across the borders.
For that reason, I'm making sure that my defensive handguns have updated night sights, with optical (i.e. reflex) sights on those I most frequently carry for self-defense. (I'm standardizing on Swampfox Optics, which I reviewed recently in these pages.). I'm also buying a couple more optical sights for my defensive long guns, and a few more magazines for weapons that rely on them. (As Tamara Keel has sagely pointed out more than once, the answer to the question "How many magazines do I need?" is always "More." That goes double if they may become legally restricted.) It's not cheap to upgrade all those parts. I long ago made a promise to Miss D. that my firearm hobby would be largely self-sustaining; i.e. I would sell what I don't need to fund what I do need. Fortunately, I've been able to keep that promise (at least so far). After the past weekend's sales, I'm in a position to buy what I need without burdening our household budget. That makes both of us happy.