A recent field trip to the Nation’s Gun Show held in Chantilly, Va., provided some anecdotal evidence of things I’ve been hearing when it comes to semi-automatic rifles. There is less artificially inflated demand—and prices—for the rifles these days. But there is still solid demand, and interest in the platform is likely stronger than ever.
It started at a neighborhood party, during which a longtime friend told me it was “time.” He had been pondering purchasing an AR, doing web research, and was ready. Not really needing an excuse to go to a gun show, I tagged along.
My friend had whittled down his focus to Colt, likely a 6920 (top image), or a gun from FN America, hopefully the carbine version of the FN 15 if it could be found. That put us smack dab in the middle of a sea of black rifles. For a guy looking for an AR at the Dulles Expo Center, it was a smorgasbord.
Toward the entry-level end of the spectrum, about $500 to $550, there were plenty of Ruger AR-556s, and there were similarly priced compatriots from Bushmaster and DPMS—plain-Jane semi-automatic M4geries. There seemed to be a little bit of a price war going on within that price range. The basic version of the SIG Sauer M400 was plentiful, as were Colts, the latter often with Magpul furniture. There were more Daniel Defense rifles on tables at the show than I can recall seeing--and considerable interest in them. Small makers with higher-end guns were in abundance, as were stripped lowers to build your own gun. The FN America Military Collector’s M4s (right) were around, but above my buddy’s budget. We did find one earlier FN 15, but it was just north of $1,000.
The mid-range guns with extra features seemed to be doing well. One dealer I spoke with on Sunday told me that he had sold eight Springfield Saints (right) the previous day, and there was not one to be found at the show. A rifle I was surprised to come across was the new Savage MSR15 Patrol (below), priced at $699. That is quite a good gun for a sticker price of $699 ($852 MSRP). It was the only one I saw as the Savages are just beginning to influence the AR market—but influence it they will.
The other observation was the prevalence of table after table full of accessories for ARs. Anything you could possibly want for an AR was available on multiple tables, in fact, there were multiple table dealers dedicated to nothing but rail sections. Magpul’s little brown boxes—and magazines—were everywhere.
This confirms my hunch that as many new AR owners are discovering just how much fun it is to modify or build your own rifle. The AR is the most easily home-customizable rifle platform on the planet. While not quite a Tinker toy, it is something virtually anyone can do with a few tools and access to YouTube. There were not so many long obvious cardboard boxes walking out the door as there were smaller cardboard boxes full of fore-ends, buttstocks, grips and other accessories.
Too, there was surprisingly little .223 Rem./5.56x45 mm ammunition left by Sunday. Premium loads were easy to find, but you would’ve been hard-pressed to find more than a box or two of American Eagle or Winchester white box. Typically, Friday at that show is spent holding the door open for guys with handcarts full of ammo heading for the parking lot.
My friend eventually settled on a lightly used Colt 6920 with a chrome-lined barrel whose carry handle had long since been pilfered off a gun show table. It was in a torn carton that looked like it had made the gun show circuit a time or two. It was quite a bargain at just under $700—usually this is at least $1,000 gun new and complete. From another table he purchased a new Magpul fore-end to replace the stock glacier guards and, as far as I could tell, the last remaining boxes of American Eagle on the show floor. He also picked up a Magpul MOE pistol grip.
A group of friends who I have been haunting gun shows with for about 30 years congratulated this newest AR owner. “Welcome to the addiction,” one told him. Already detailed customization plans are in the works. Had he attempted to purchase the same rifle last year, odds are it would've been $1,600.
As my friend stood in line to pick up his new Colt 6920 as he cleared his background check, virtually everyone else in that line, at least 10 deep, had purchased a concealed-carry pistol. As a matter fact, the two people in line behind us were both picking up Ruger LC9s. It seems that particular dealer had the best price at the show.
For concealed-carry pistols and ARs, it was a buyer’s market, one in which supply outstripped demand. We have seen some consolidation on ARs already. Olympic Arms, out of Washington, will be closing its doors on February 28. No offense to its owners, but I have regarded Olympic as the Ottoman Empire of AR makers for some time. No doubt other makers may fall as supply outstrips demand.
Again, that was just one gun show, but it told me that now is a great time to be in the market for an AR.