DUNCANSVILLE - Under a photo of President Barack Obama marked "Firearms salesman of the year," Allegheny Trade Co. co-owner Mark McNeely repeatedly - and unsuccessfully - dialed the number Thursday to the state police background-check hotline.
"A lot of times you keep trying, trying - boom! You get through," he said.
The line has been jammed for days, local gun store employees said, while semiautomatic assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines have been flying off shelves at an unprecedented rate.
"We're out of almost everything. It's crazy," McNeely said in the crowded store, the phone ringing frequently. "It's everything, but mostly the semi-autos."
The usual sales increase that follows a mass shooting has been supplemented by fears that Obama and congressional gun-control supporters are set to reinstate the expired 1994 federal assault weapons ban, store owners and employees said.
Sales went up after the Dec. 14 elementary school massacre that left 28 people, including the shooter, dead in Connecticut. But Obama's speech Wednesday, in which he announced the establishment of a federal gun-policy team under Vice President Joe Biden's leadership, pushed some gun owners' concerns over the edge.
"A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips," Obama said Wednesday.
Those comments, and declarations this week from some congressional Democrats, have indicated that the president could pursue similar limitations to the 1990s ban - which limited rifles and handguns with military characteristics, as well as magazines containing more than 10 bullets.
At Allegheny Trade Co., boxes of empty, ready-to-use magazines sat on a shelf. Several were picked over, though a few military-style magazines labeled "AR-15 used mags" remained.
"Will you see a ban on high-capacity magazines? Yes, you will," co-owner Chuck Ahearn said. "We knew this was going to happen. It's just a matter of when."
Some customers have bought as many as a dozen high-capacity magazines apiece, the owners said. At less than $20, they said, the magazines are a bargain for gun owners who expect the price to rise as high as $50 within a month.
At Campbell's Sporting Goods, down the road in Hollidaysburg, employees said they've already sold out of 30-round magazines. Of more than a dozen guns that would classify as "assault rifles," only two remained on the shelves Thursday.
"I've never seen anything like it," employee Richard Kidd said.
Both employees and customers at Campbell's placed the business increase squarely on politics. The only period in recent memory that brought similar sales, Kidd said, was after Obama's reelection.
A man behind the counter constantly redialed the Harrisburg hotline, hanging up each time a busy signal answered him. Behind him stood a civilian version of an Israeli military rifle.
Two customers who'd gone to Campbell's for a gun transfer found themselves out of luck, with the state system too busy to accomodate their request.
"Try again when this fiasco's over," an employee said.
"That's four more years," a customer replied, laughing.
Sheriffs' departments rely on the same check system as gun shops; with the system overloaded statewide, Blair County authorities announced indefinite delays for concealed-carry permits Thursday.
"We usually do same day. We can no longer do that because of the problems Harrisburg is having," Chief Deputy Holly Garner said.
Some gun shop employees dismissed fears of a ban - in 1994, Kidd said, the remaining loopholes were so large that most semiautomatic rifles and pistols remained readily available at stores.
But because that ban - and any likely future ban - exempted weapons bought before it took effect, customers have rushed to get guns before they disappear, he said.
Asked whether Obama's speech Wednesday pushed sales even higher, Kidd laughed.
"I didn't think they could have put any more gas on that fire," he said.