Gun dealers in Maryland and Virginia said yesterday that lifting the 10-year-old federal ban on assault weapons would have little effect on business -- no parties to celebrate the expiration and probably no lines out the door.
For one thing, distributors could not ship the weapons until the ban expired at midnight today, so stores won't have the fresh stock for days or weeks. But mostly, the dealers said, customers just aren't that eager to buy them.
"I think people are more excited that we lost some ground 10 years ago and we're taking that ground back," said Robert Marcus, owner of Bob's Gun Shop in Norfolk. But he said that any hoopla about the end of the ban is "much ado about nothing."
The ban -- which prohibited the sale of 19 types of semiautomatic weapons with specific features, such as bayonet attachments and flash suppressors -- was largely cosmetic, and the average target shooter or hunter got along fine after it, dealers said.
"We haven't had a huge demand for any of those weapons, not before the ban or after," said John Schelin, owner of Schelin's Guns in College Park. "We have some that have been on the shelves for over a year."
However, about two dozen local elected officials continued to call for a continuation of the ban yesterday.
The inventories of gun shops in both states have included legal versions of the firearms for the past decade, the dealers said, adding that the ban's expiration would result in more conversation than sales.
The dealers said they expect the most enthused gun collectors to inquire about the now-legal accessories.
"It's about a boy and his toys," said Al Koch, manager of Bart's Sports World, a gun shop in Glen Burnie. "It's like saying I want hubcaps and a racing wheel on my AR-15," a type of assault rifle. "Now I can put whistles and bells on my firearms that I couldn't put on them yesterday."
Under the federal ban, weapons were limited to 10-round ammunition magazines and could not include two or more of the following characteristics: a folding or telescoping stock; a pistol grip; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor; or a grenade launcher, all features found on military weapons. Firearms with those features continued to be sold to law enforcement agencies and the armed forces.
The ban's expiration allows gunmakers to again offer the weapons with the attachments and higher-capacity magazines, including clips with 15 or 30 rounds. But a Maryland law, passed in June 1994, restricts ammunition magazines that hold more than 20 rounds. The state, one of seven to have its own ban on assault weapons, also prohibits 16 types of assault pistols.
A bill that would have expanded the state's law to include 45 other types of weapons with certain military characteristics died last spring in the General Assembly. Advocates of the bill said yesterday that they would push for its revival and passage next year.
Virginia has no state ban on assault weapons.
Certain restrictions remain in place in both states for people who want to buy assault weapons, including state and federal background checks.
But those constraints were of little comfort to about two dozen Maryland officials who gathered at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda yesterday to make one final push to try to persuade the Republican Congress to keep the federal ban in place.
Congregated outside the emergency room, where surgeons treated several victims of the 2002 sniper attacks, they warned that Maryland's streets were about to get a lot more dangerous.
Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger held up an AR-15 assault rifle and said: "These weapons are not for hunting, they are not designed for sporting activity. These are the weapons the military uses to kill people." He added, "My greatest fear is we just made it easier for the bad guys to rearm themselves."
Calling assault weapons "domestic weapons of mass destruction," Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) framed the expired ban as a threat to the nation's homeland security efforts. "You would think for a president who says he is tough on terrorism and tough on crime, he would also be tough on the weapons of choice for criminals and terrorists."
Hours before the ban was to expire, the Web site for Springfield, Mass.-based gunmaker Smith & Wesson was offering two free high-capacity magazines holding up to 16 rounds for weapons purchased before Dec. 31.
A spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the federal ban's sunset. She referred questions about the high-capacity magazine offer to Tom Taylor, the company's director of marketing. He did not return messages.
Other gunmakers did not return calls or would not comment, including Beretta USA Corp., Glock Inc., and Colt's Manufacturing Co. LLC.
Sanford Abrams, vice president of the Baltimore-based Maryland Licensed Firearms Dealers Association and a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors, said the expiration will have "very little" impact on the industry.
"People who wanted assault weapons already own them," he said. "The guns weren't banned, just cosmetic appendages."
For example, Colt's popular AR-15 rifle, will, presumably, once more be available with the flash suppressor. It has been available without that feature since the ban took effect.
"Customers have been calling all day, very curious," said Abrams, who owns Valley Gun in Baltimore. Far from clamoring to buy assault weapons, "they're just asking me what's going on, because media reports on this have been very confusing."
The buzz about the end of the ban was strong in Manassas, said Bernie Conatser, owner of the Virginia Arms Co. Conatser said he has taken hundreds of orders, at least one from nearly every repeat customers. Some were placed as far back as a year ago.
Most of the orders have not been for weapons but for previously banned magazines and accessories, which customers will place on their "neutered" assault weapons purchased during the past decade.
"It's the proper look," he said. "The original reconfiguration."
Staff writers Tim Craig and Elizabeth Williamson contributed to this report.