Just the threat of a ban has been a boon to the gun business.
"[It's] been a very, very busy year for us," said Mark Malkowski, president of Stag Arms in New Britain, Conn. "Right now we're at about a year's back order, 70,000 rifles at this point."
Connecticut recently passed some of the toughest gun laws in the country, banning the sales of AR-15s. Malkowski has since announced he might be forced to move his company out of the state—taking some 200 jobs with it. Stag Arms is one of more than 30 companies that make the AR-15; together they sell some 800,000 rifles a year, nearly all for the U.S. market.
"The AR-15 now is probably the Number 1 economic engine in the gun industry," said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, N.C. "We sell every one we get, almost as quick as they come in. We've never seen the demand that's here today."
Gun store owners and analysts alike say it's one of the bestselling guns in the country; roughly $1 billion of the estimated $4 billion firearms industry is made up of sales of AR-15 rifles and their accessories.
"These are expensive guns that people think about a lot before they buy them," said Hyatt. "They're not protesting on the street against the government, they're buying AR-15s and ammunition. It's not advertising, it's not marketing, it's political."
Politics coupled with shifting consumer preference are big drivers of the market, said Wedbush Securities analyst Rommel Dionisio.
"In the last two years, the market has exploded," he said. "It's a fad; it's the cool, new rifle. People used to hunt with bolt action rifles. Now they're using the modern sporting rifle."
According to the sports shooting foundation, an average AR-15 runs about $1,000. They also say the average owner has more than one rifle and spends an additional $483 for accessories. It's a pricey purchase that Diaz says is benefiting from years of industry marketing.
"The names you see now are 'modern sporting rifle,' 'tactical rifle,' " he said. "Those are all just euphemisms for 'assault weapon.' They're being very rational as marketers and as businesses—and as industries. They're only doing what cellphone companies do to make cellphones look different and be more attractive. The difference is what they're selling is lethality."
"They're selling today's rifle," said the foundation's Sanetti. "We call it the modern sporting rifle. And that's exactly what it is."
Whether it's called a modern sporting rifle or an assault rifle, for Atlanta gun show vendor Mazzant, AR-15s are just good business.
"Today was one of the better sales days with ARs," he said. "Everybody in the whole place was lining up to buy them."
Mazzant started off with 100 AR-15 rifles. By the end of the day, he didn't have a single one left.