New York's small gun retailers have to adjust to new gun laws

Feb 5, 2013

If you’re buying a gun, chances are you can find what you want at big box stores like Gander Mountain, Dicks, and Walmart. But New York state is also home to over 1,800 small gun retailers, who are trying to adjust to the state¿s new gun laws.

Brian Sherwood’s gun collection at his home in Tupper Lake looks almost like a museum display.

There’s a handmade flintlock rifle, a mannequin dressed up in old World War II fatigues, and Adirondack pack baskets hanging from the walls. And then, there’s a rack of guns.

Brian explains them one by one -- a 1936 rifle used by the Russians in World War II, an original Russian sniper rifle -- the list goes on. 

Brian Sherwood with his personal gun collection.
Brian Sherwood with his personal gun collection.
Credit Sarah Harris/Innovation Trail

Brian’s a total history buff. He’s a big guy, with gauged ears and facial piercings. He’s also a card-carrying Democrat. And like many North Country gun retailers, he’s trying to figure out how the state’s new gun control laws will affect his business.

"I stock mainly military guns from WWII and earlier," Brian explains. "I also sell the so-called assault rifles - I don’t stock them - I order them per order which of course came to a crashing halt on January 15th. And I also stock military accessories, which includes high capacity magazines and some accessories for AR -15s and AK-47s."

Brian’s primary income doesn’t come from gun sales. He works at Adirondack Correctional Facility. But he loves old guns, and decided to turn his hobby into a business.

His inventory is small – around  $5000-$6000. Brian says those military accessories, now illegal, probably represent about 15 percent of it.

"$500-$800 I’ll either have to sell on the internet if I can, give it away out of state or just take a hammer to it." 

A changing industry

Brian says he’s having a hard time stocking what his customers want.

"But right now those distributors are empty. They’ve got nothing to sell as far as ammunition goes."

"For starters, probably a lot of people don’t want to do business in New York state – distributers," says Jeff Rabideau. He and his wife, Suzie Thaller, are avid outdoorsfolk. They ran a gun shop northern Clinton county near the Canadian border for 18 years and also organized a gun show.

Jeff says that over the years, the business got harder and harder.

Jeff Rabideau and Suzie Thaller at their diner in Cranberry Lake, NY. They ran a gun shop in Altona, NY for 18 years.
Jeff Rabideau and Suzie Thaller at their diner in Cranberry Lake, NY. They ran a gun shop in Altona, NY for 18 years.
Credit Sarah Harris/Innovation Trail

"At one time I had close to $50,000 worth of stuff. But as the years went down and sales started declining, the big box stores moved in 20 miles down the road, it started going down, then I started looking to more of the custom, more expensive orders and hard to find stuff. And I did that for a while." 

Last spring Jeff and Suzie closed their gun store. Jeff had always wanted to cook for a living. So they moved to the western Adirondacks to Cranberry Lake and opened a new business running a motel and diner.

Jeff figured he’d just take a break from selling guns.

"I had to transfer my license to my new residency and it took a while. Called the ATF, tell ‘em you  you moved, fill out another form, they have to come and inspect your books, tell you how to do it proper again, check out where you’re settin’ up  your business so it gets secured for your guns."

Jeff says the licensing process took almost six months. But now he’s not sure if he wants to start selling guns again.

"I had plans to. Don’t know now, cause if you gotta do background checks on ammunition, it’s too much time for selling a box of 22 shells," Jeff says thoughtfully. "Probably some day.  We’ll wait and see how the rules slide down."

"Stick with fishing equipment," says his wife Suzie. "It’s safer at this point." 

Customers react to legislation

Both dealers say that they’re not the only ones reeling from the new laws. Their customers are too.

You get some guys who are saying, ‘Well, I’ll just give in, I’ll give ‘em what they want, I’ll throw away what I can’t have, and I’ll take my loss,’" Brian Sherwood explains. "­­­And then some guys are just saying, ‘I’m not gonna abide by the law, let ‘em put me in jail.’"

Neither Jeff nor Brian has sold a ton of the semi-automatic weapons highlighted in the new state laws. But Jeff says that their customers want choices.  

"The people want guns. All of the people I used to sell to bought high capacity mags. They don’t have a tendency to use ‘em. They probably never had ‘em out of the box. But they want to have the opportunity to buy."

As for Jeff and Brian, they’d like the opportunity to sell. 

For more from the Innovation Trail, visit their website. Reporting by the Innovation Trail is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.