Bushmasters Disappearing From Shelves After Newtown

PHOTO: Three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 15, 2012.
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Two reasons explain why the Bushmaster rifle--the weapon implicated in the mass murder of children in Newtown, Conn.--is disappearing fast from gun store shelves: It's been vilified. And it remains hugely popular.

In Photos: Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Victims

Customers are buying Bushmasters so fast that stores have trouble stocking it. "We sold 14 yesterday," says Ross Meyer of Gunworld & Archery in Elko, Nev. "That's way up. All of our suppliers are out of them."

Says Andrew Molchan, director of the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers (NAFLFD): "Naturally, when something's a lot in the news, it has increased sales. I doubt there's much inventory left at this point. There are no discounts, that's for sure."

Daniel, an assistant manager at Discount Shooters Supply in Roseville, Calif., tells ABC News, "We don't really have a lot in stock, because it's been so popular. They've been selling faster than manufacturers can produce them." His store, he says, has only one left on display. "Here in the Sacramento area, I hear other stores are experiencing the same thing."

The Bushmaster is only one version of a generic rifle called the AR-15, a civilian cousin of the M-16 developed for the U.S. Army in the 1960s. Other manufacturers produce versions of their own, most at a lower price than the Bushmaster, which retails, says Molchan, for $700 to $900.

Read more: Newtown Massacre: What Is a Bushmaster .223?

Smith & Wesson, Colt, Remington, Ruger and Olympic Arms and others make AR-15s. "There probably are 30 to 40 different manufacturers," says Daniel of Discount Shooters. Prices for Bushmasters have risen by as much as 50 percent since Friday, the store reports.

The weapon's notoriety, though, cuts two ways.

Cerberus Capital, a New York City firm that owns Bushmaster, announced Tuesday it would be selling the company and the subsidiary that includes it. Calling the Connecticut shooting a "watershed event," Cerberus in a statement said, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and communities impacted by this tragic event."

Major retail chains, including Dick's Sporting Goods, have announced they are suspending sales of Bushmasters or similar rifles, partly as a gesture of respect to the Connecticut dead, but also to insulate themselves from public censure.

Dick's, in a statement posted on its website, says: "We are extremely saddened by the unspeakable tragedy that occurred last week in Newtown, CT, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and to the entire community. Out of respect for the victims and their families, during this time of national mourning we have removed all guns from sale and from display in our store nearest to Newtown and [have] suspended the sale of modern sporting rifles in all of our stores chainwide."

Walmart, without making any public comment, has pulled Bushmasters from its website.

Molchan of the NAFLFD dismisses such gestures as commercial expediency: "Dick's? The AR-15 represents maybe 1/ 200th of their gross sales. They'll suspend selling it, but they'll get $10 million in free publicity. Even more so with Walmart. [The gun is] maybe 1/10th of 1 percent of their gross sales. I guess it's the right thing to do. It's certainly the right P.R. thing to do."

Why do people--despite the tragic killings in Connecticut--continue to buy this gun?

Read more: Australia a Model for Successful Gun Control?

Because, they say, for want of a better word, it's fun. And because they fear political forces and new regulatory restrictions may soon make guns like it more difficult, if not impossible, to buy.

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