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Russia sanctions put squeeze on area gun owners

Tuesday - 9/2/2014, 9:21am  ET

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Tracy Earlenbaugh, of TW Firearms, in Leesburg, displays a Russian AK-47. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

LEESBURG, Va. -- The impact of the fighting in eastern Ukraine is being felt by businesses in the D.C. area.

They don't have loved ones caught in the violence; they don't sell their goods in the war-torn region. The problem is that their inventory comes from Russia, which is seen as the aggressor in the conflict.

"We have noticed that our supply has gotten much lower, so it's harder for us to get the firearms," said Tyler Whidby, with TW Firearms in Leesburg.

Sanctions on Russia by President Barack Obama's administration include a ban on importing AK-47s, which are produced in Russia.

The U.S. and the European Union have accused Russia, which annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March, of supplying arms and expertise to a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and have responded by slapping sanctions on Russian individuals and companies.

Whidby said gun distributors had a large stock of AK-47s, but with no new guns coming in, it's hard to get more inventory.

In the meantime, sales are up for the gun "because people are worried about prices skyrocketing, the way they did on the AR platform after the Sandy Hook incident," Whidby says, referring to the AR-15-style Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle that gunman Adam Lanza used to shoot 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Following the shooting, many people purchased the guns fearing they would be banned.

Jerry Rubino of Ashburn, Virginia purchased one of the weapons after hearing about the ban on imports.

"I'd just like to have one as a collector's item," he says.

What does the future hold for the sales of the popular firearm? Whidby says he believes companies that produce the weapons are already exporting parts to other countries, where the guns will be manufactured and then imported into the U.S. He says they won't be made in Russia, but they'll be the same gun.

He thinks the ban on imports is meant not only to punish Russia, but also take aim at the gun industry and the many locally-owned and operated businesses that sell weapons.

"Obama has been after the firearms industry; we've seen it for three years," he says.

Obama said that sanctions already announced have had some impact, yet he conceded that they have not forced Russia to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

"I think there are ways for us to deepen and expand the scope of some of that work," Obama said.

The Associated Press contribute to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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