At the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Orange County Fairgrounds Saturday, a Heckler Koch SR9 semiautomatic rifle that sold for about $1,500 a few months ago, now carried the jaw-dropping sticker of $3,750.
There wasn't an ammunition magazine packing more than 10 bullets to be found at the Costa Mesa Gun Shop, and more than 60 people were on a list for incoming stock. And up the freeway at B&B Sales in Westminster, antsy folks started lining up for the high-capacity magazines, now priced $5 to $10 higher, before the store opened.
Two days after Congress passed the much-debated crime bill, Orange County gun stores are jammed with people demanding soon-to-be-illegal guns and magazines or clips that hold more than the legal limit of bullets.
"We knew why we were packed today," said Jim Murray, manager of Sam Fowler's Stockade in Westminster. "People are scared."
The legislation will stop the manufacture, sale and possession of 19 semiautomatic models and dozens of "copycat" firearms, including the AK-47 and the Colt AR-15, a civilian model of the U.S. military M-16.
It also puts restrictions on firearms modified with two or more pieces of now-prohibited equipment such as a folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, flash suppressor or threaded muzzle (for silencers), bayonet mount or grenade launcher.
But since the new laws don't take effect until the bill is signed by President Clinton, gun store owners such as Murray are seeing a business boom. And the demand has upped the prices of every item on the crime bill's hit list.
Saturday, more than 200 customers thronged Fowler's Stockade--more than double the usual number--and about 60% of them were buyers, Murray said. Most of the customers were "disgusted with their President," Murray said. "I couldn't find a person that voted for Clinton in here today."
The purchase of choice at six Orange county gun shops? Semiautomatic handguns, such as the Glock 45, that use magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
Since the first rumblings about the bill started three months ago, the Glock 45, for example, jumped in price from $525 to $630 at Fowler's Stockade, and this week the price of magazines to fit the gun were marked up from $39 to $65, Murray said.
Chuck Miller, manager of the Costa Mesa Gun Shop, said he's had a tough time even getting the guns to sell.
"It's ridiculous. It's only been a few years since we had a whole rack of assault weapons. They're gone and they're never coming back," said Miller, referring to California's earlier ban on assault weapons. "Now the magazines are gone and they're never coming back."
At the Crossroads of the West Gun Show, sales of the soon-to-be banned magazines were especially brisk, and were selling for at least double the price.
"Any time you tell people they can't have something, the first thing they want is to go out and get it," said Fred Buswell, of the Heritage Gun Room in Santa Ana, one of the dozens of vendors at the show.
Steve Allred, another show vendor, said: "Any of the firearms that are banned by the crime bill are a hot seller.
"See this gun here?" he said, pointing to a Polytech M-14 rifle. "I'm selling it for $550, but some people are selling them for $900. I couldn't believe it! I have scruples. I wouldn't do that."
Customers were not happy about the increases, but many seemed willing to pay the price.
"I bought some high-capacity clips," said Irvine resident Tony San Miguel, 33. "I am fully aware that these won't be available, so when I heard about this show, I decided to come and obtain what I need."
San Miguel spent $300 on four magazine clips that can each fire 30 rounds, which he said are more convenient to use for target practice.
"The prices are just exorbitant," he said, as he clutched a plastic bagful of Barretta magazines. "I was at a show about five months ago and I could pick them up for about $12. Now, they are selling for about $40, and today I saw some being sold for $70."
Inside one of the display tents at the show, 37-year-old Wayne Stone picked up the Heckler Koch SR9, a semiautomatic rifle, that had a price tag of $3,750.
"It's incredible to see how the price has gone up," Stone said to a companion as he examined the rifle. "I think this same gun was selling for about $1,500 before. This is just because people are thinking, 'I'm going to grab these things before I can't anymore.' "
The Associated Press contributed to this report.