Gun limits might hurt Flathead manufacturers
Dec 21, 2012 (Daily Inter Lake - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
While gun sales are spiking across the country in the wake of last week's school shooting in Connecticut, people in the firearms industry aren't necessarily enjoying the profits.
Instead, they are gripped with worry about potential gun control fallout.
Just ask Brian Sipe, owner of the Montana Rifleman barrel and action manufacturing company located on Montana 35 east of Kalispell.
"I'm very concerned about legislation. If they do an assaults weapons ban, I'm going to have to lay off people," said Sipe, who is in regular communication with firearms manufacturers across the county.
President Barack Obama's call for a special commission to discuss ways to reduce gun violence is just the latest subject in Sipe's conversations with people in the industry.
"They're expecting something," Sipe said. "They just don't know what. All of us think it's up to the senators. The House won't vote against the Second Amendment."
Sipe is paying close attention to Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats.
"I'm concerned with how they are going to vote. They damn well better vote with the people of Montana and the Second Amendment. If I have to lay off people, I am going to put it on their doorstep."
The Montana Rifleman manufactures barrels for a variety of rifles and pistols, but Sipe said 95 percent of his production is barrels for AR-15-type rifles, the kind used by the school shooter in Newtown, Conn.
The business has been steadily ramping up production to a current pace of about 1,500 to 2,000 barrels a day, and Sipe said he is on track to finish the year with 350,000 barrels. His previous highest annual production was last year with 143,000 barrels.
Sipe said his payroll for the year has topped $3 million.
"That's how much we paid out in wages and every dime of that stays in this valley," he said, adding that gun control legislation could impact a variety of companies in the Flathead, which has emerged as a growing hub in the firearms manufacturing industry.
"Think about all the other companies that could be affected" by gun-control legislation, he said. "It could be $40 million or $50 million coming out of this economy overnight."
Sipe said most of his customers are not operational between now and New Year's, but he expects another boom in orders starting next month.
"You better believe we are busy," he said. "I don't think there's any way we can keep up with it."
Sipe said it is no coincidence that demand for firearms, particularly AR-15-type rifles, has gone through the roof. Customers who must pass federal background checks to purchase the weapons through retail outlets are concerned that Washington, either through legislation or some type of executive order, will end their ability to buy them.
"They want them for protection, to protect their families," Sipe said.
News reports were swirling Thursday about the run on guns.
Semi-automatic rifles were reportedly out of stock at Walmart stores in five states. The National Rifle Association reported that it was registering 8,000 new members per day since last week's shooting, a surge that far exceeds previous increases in enrollment.
Several states were setting new records in the number of federal background checks for firearm purchases.
According to an FBI website for its National Instant Criminal Background Check System, Montana is one of those states.
Not counting December's numbers, which have yet to be released, there have been 115,893 background checks conducted this year in Montana. The previous high since the program started in 1998 was in 2011, when 108,974 background checks were processed.
Sipe said the Connecticut shooting that ended with 26 people dead, most of them children, was a tragedy.
"That's terrible. For God's sake, no sane person would do that," he said. "But it's always the guns that are blamed for everything and it's not the people. The liberal Democrats always blame the guns."
Sipe is frustrated that mental health monitoring does not get similar attention, and that violent entertainment and video games aren't equally scrutinized.
But he's most frustrated that scores of incidents where gun crimes are deterred or ended by other people with guns get little or no widespread attention.
"There are so many of those stories where violence is deterred because someone is carrying a gun," he said.
Sipe dismisses claims that the Second Amendment is about protecting gun ownership just for hunting or target shooting.
"It's there so the people have the ability to take back the country if the government goes against the Constitution. That's it," he said.
Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at email@example.com.
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