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Washington - The expansion of the embargo against Russia last month to counter its aggressive actions in Ukraine has prompted a run on some gun stores by customers in search of Russian-made weaponry.
"It's called supply and demand," said Jerry McCall, owner of Texas Guns in San Antonio and Arrowhead Gun Shop in Kerrville, Texas. "When something like this happens, guns get bought up immediately."
McCall said his supply of Russian-made Saiga shotguns and rifles and other products produced by Russia's Kalashnikov Concern - a target of the expanded embargo announced July 16 - is dwindling as customers stock up.
With the embargo in effect now for more than three weeks, importers and wholesalers are seeing supply lines dry up. "The tunnel has been severed," McCall said.
The price of a Russian-made $800 rifle is now $1,200 and might rise even higher for the few he has left, McCall added.
Anecdotal reports from gun stores in other parts of the nation appear to confirm the sales spike.
"Whenever supply of a product is cut off through government action, the demand for the product increases relative to supply," said Larry Keane, vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's main trade group, based in Newtown, Conn. "Prices go up - it's economics 101."
The embargo does not affect Russian-made weapons already paid for and in the supply pipeline. But it does bar all U.S. purchases after July 16. Importers with products not fully paid for or purchased on consignment are advised to contact the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control, a department spokesperson said.
Those rushing to gun stores and buying up Russian-made inventory apparently fall into two categories: speculators and impulse buyers.
Speculators see an opportunity to buy up weapons that will increase in value if they remain scarce or unavailable.
"They put money in guns knowing they increase in value faster than the two percent you'd get in a savings account," said McCall. On the other hand, impulse buyers "realize that if they don't get it now, they're not going to get it," he said.
While minuscule in comparison to other exports such as oil and natural gas, small arms have proven to be lucrative market for Russia. The U.S. imported 204,788 firearms from Russia in 2013, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Russia ranked No. 9 on the ATF import list, with Brazil, Austria and Germany in the top three positions.
Adam Lanza, the mass shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, had a Russian-made Saiga 12 shotgun in his car. It went unused that day as Lanza used a Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle to murder 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14, 2012.
Kalashnikov Concern is the product of a merger of Russian firearms makers with roots dating back to the reign of Czar Alexander I in 1807. The name evokes the legendary Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 semi-automatic rifle that was the standard weapon of Soviet and Eastern Bloc forces throughout the Cold War.
This gun-buying frenzy evokes similar recent episodes driven by gun-owner-buyer concerns after President Obama's 2012 re-election and the Newtown massacre that the White House would impose gun restrictions - fears that proved unfounded.
For the most part, there was agreement by those on all sides of the gun controversy that the embargo on Russian exports, including arms, is driven by one thing: Desire to deliver an economic blow to Russia to counter its aggressive moves on behalf of Ukraine separatists, which now includes involvement in providing the missile launcher that separatists allegedly used to shoot down a Malaysian Airlines jet last month, killing all 298 aboard.
"This is not perceived as being furtherance of a domestic gun control agenda," said Keane of the NSSF. "It is trying to influence Russia's aggressive stance toward Ukraine. No one is questioning imposition of sanctions."
Even so, the National Rifle Association said in a statement shortly after the embargo announcement that "the extent to which these actions coincide with the stated domestic policy goals of gun control supporters is more than a little unsettling." The NRA is "monitoring this situation closely," the statement said.
Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Violence Policy Center, which advocates for greater gun regulation, said the embargo is "slightly different because it is brand specific."
Previous buying sprees were stoked by the National Rifle Association, which fanned the flames of fear among gun owners after Newtown even though far-reaching gun-control measures faced uphill odds on Capitol Hill, Rand said.
Conservative-oriented media outlets created an "echo chamber, but the NRA was the primary motivator," Rand said. "It all feeds on itself."
At the time, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre declared in a fiery speech: "We will not surrender. We will not appease. We will buy more guns than ever."
Gun buyers who flocked to stores then "maxed out their credit cards," said Houston firearms dealer Jim Pruett.