Even amid reports of many Americans scrambling to buy guns, a major sporting goods chain suspended sales of some of its semi-automatic guns Tuesday while an investment firm moved to sell off a company whose rifle was reportedly used in last week’s attack at a Connecticut elementary school.
The fallout came as stock prices of gun makers tumbled, despite reports that many people — perhaps foreseeing tighter gun control laws ahead — moved quickly to buy guns in the aftermath of the shooting spree in which 27 victims died last week.
In Iowa, one gun dealer told the Des Moines Register he had sold a half-dozen assault rifles since Friday and that demand for guns is high everywhere.
Officials at the Colorado Bureau of Investigations reported a record number of people seeking background checks so they could buy guns. The staff was so swamped that officials had to call for extra help as the waiting periods for thousands increased from a typical 15 minutes to nearly a day, the Denver Post reported.
And a San Diego television station, NBC7, reported an increase in sales as customers anticipate new gun laws.
Still, amid the reports of increasing demand, Dick's Sporting Goods suspended sales of some of its rifles while removing all of the guns on display at a store not far from Newtown, Conn., where the attack was carried out.
"We are extremely saddened by the unspeakable tragedy that occurred last week ... and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and to the entire community," the Pennsylvania-based company said in a statement posted on its website.
The company, which has more than 500 stores in 44 states, announced the decision amid reports that investigators were trying to determine whether the Connecticut shooter, Adam Lanza, had attempted to buy a gun at a Dicks store about 12 miles from Newton.
The decision by the sporting goods chain came on the same day that an investment firm announced plans to sell its interest in a major U.S. gun manufacturer that makes a semi-automatic rifle reportedly used by Lanza during his attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Cautioning that the firm wasn't trying to influence the gun control policy debate, Cerberus Capital Management said in five-paragraph statement it would sell the Freedom Group, which, among other guns, makes the Bushmaster AR-15, a semi-automatic assault rifle. Walmart reportedly pulled the same weapon from its online store Tuesday.
"It is not our role to take positions or attempt to shape or influence the gun control policy debate," the firm said in its statement. "There are, however, actions we as a firm can take. Accordingly, we have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our interests in Freedom Group."
The firm's statement didn't say so, but Cerberus was likely to come under increasing scrutiny for its ties to the gun maker.
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System had told Reuters on Monday that the nation's second-largest pension fund was reviewing its investments in Cerberus in the wake of the school shooting.
Guns are big business in America. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, Smith & Wesson, a Massachusetts-based firearms manufacturer, estimated the domestic nonmilitary firearms market is "approximately $1.5 billion for handguns, $632 million for hunting firearms, and $489 million for modern sporting rifles."
Smith & Wesson stock was down about 10 percent late Tuesday afternoon, while Sturm, Ruger & Co. Inc., another major publicly traded gun manufacturer that makes the SR-556 semi-automatic carbine rifle, saw its stock price drop nearly 8 percent for the day.
Meanwhile, the National Rifle Association, the largest gun rights organization in the country, refrained from making any public statements for days until Tuesday afternoon. The NRA said it would have more to discuss at a press conference Friday.
"The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," the NRA statement said, adding the details would come later in the week.
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