The threat of new gun control legislation coming out of Washington is certainly stirring up strong business for gun sales and related industries. I visited a pair of gun ranges over the weekend, one indoor and one outdoor. I also visited an Academy sporting goods store that retails pistols, rifles, ammunition and accessories.
On Saturday night, I visited Red’s Indoor Range near Austin, TX. The range retails and resells guns and accessories, but the heart of its business is its 16-lane indoor gun range. On the night I was there, the waiting time to fire on the range was about half an hour to 45 minutes. Customers were a range of ages and racial backgrounds, and ranged in experience from novices who had never fired a gun before to seasoned marksmen and women. One young Asian couple could not have been more than 21 years old. Neither had ever fired a gun before, and both were obviously excited and nervous at the chance. The range’s representative helped them select a small semiautomatic .22 caliber to get them started, recommending that gun for its control and thoroughly briefing them on how to operate it and on the range’s safety rules. A black family who brought their own pistols seemed to be brushing up on their techniques. A tall, fit black man test fired a pistol that he rented from the range, I didn’t catch which model, and discussed the pros and cons of it with range staff. He did not seem likely to buy that particular gun. A Caucasian family of mom, dad and two sons who looked to be between 11 and 14 brought rifles to fire. One Hispanic man rented an AR-15 rifle from the range and, after a 10-minute briefing on the weapon by range staff, took it to the range to fire. He said he had not fired that weapon before. There were families, couples, a single woman who might have been 95 pounds and five feet tall is she wore heels firing a Mosquito, as wide a range of folks as you’ll see at any other place around Texas. I fired a Sig Sauer P238, a model I had not fired before. Once I got used to operating it, I found it to be a very good gun for concealed carry and self-defense.
On Sunday afternoon, the perfect weather helped me decide to visit an outdoor range — Eagle Peak in Leander. The story there was pretty much the same. The range was operating at capacity. The crowd was diverse. The rifle range was full, the skeet range was full and the box range — a spot to fire shotguns at stationary targets — varied in usage but was in use the entire time I was there. One father brought his children, a daughter who was maybe nine and a son who was about 14 or 15, and was showing them how to handle shotguns on the box range and a rifle on the rifle range. I fired a 20 gauge. Next to me, two young men in their 20s were test firing an antique double-barrel 12 gauge that one had recently gotten from his grandfather. Another pair of men in their 20s were firing a pump action 12 gauge that one of them had just bought.
Safety was strongly explained and enforced at both ranges. The indoor range briefs everyone on their first use of the range, and they’re happy to help customers understand how to operate any firearm, those they rent and any that customers bring in on their own. Eagle Peak makes customers watch a safety video that clearly spells out the rules, and they have staff around to help users get from one range to another.
After the gun range Sunday, I checked out an Academy sporting goods store. They sell a pistol that I’ve had my eye on, so I thought I’d take a look at one as I make up my mind. The first thing I noticed was that, while the racks and shelves elsewhere around the store were filled as they normally are, the shelves in the firearms section were bare in spots. As I was looking at the ammunition racks, a customer walked up to the counter and asked how to find .22LR ammunition. At about the same time he asked this, I noticed that I couldn’t find that ammunition on the shelves at all. The Academy staff explained why: “We can’t keep it in stock. As soon as we put it on the shelves, we sell it. We’re actually really low on a lot of ammo right now. Those shelves would be just about empty, if we didn’t put more shotgun ammo out there to cover the holes.” He also noted that they cannot keep any .223 ammunition on the shelves either, because “everybody is buying that stuff up, and AR-15s too.” This store had no AR-15 rifles or ammunition in stock.
“They can’t ship it to us fast enough,” he said. “It hasn’t been like this in years, maybe ever.”