American as apple pie. In recent years, due to increased media coverage of mass shootings, such as the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children dead, the debate around gun control has once again picked up steam.
But even on the off chance that Washington does enact some meaningful legislation that reforms accessibility to firearms, it probably won’t have an effect on the profitability of gun companies. Recent history tells us that the media coverage of mass shootings and the publicized debates surrounding gun control only serve as free publicity and free marketing for gun companies that have seen nothing but surges in their profits in the wake of all these recent violent shootings, particularly the Sandy Hook Massacre.
With an astonishing .89 guns per capita and 304 million guns in circulation, the United States has always been the world’s hub for guns and gun culture. Just to give an idea of how exceedingly well armed we really are, the next highest country on this list is Serbia with .58 guns per capita. Not surprisingly then, gun sales remain incredibly successful in the United States.
The two biggest publicly traded manufacturers and distributors of guns, Smith & Wesson Holdings (SWHC) and Sturm Ruger (RGR) , have seen their stocks soar 150.1% and 370.6% over the last five years, respectively. Not only have the returns been spectacular, but gun companies also appear to be recession proof. In the heart of the Great Recession from 2008-2011, gun-industry related jobs grew by more than 30%.
The Paradoxical Nature of People
In the wake of the high publicized and particularly gruesome mass shootings this country has seen over the past few years, support for stricter gun control and expansive background checks have boomed. After the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, 91% of Americans and 74% of NRA members supported universal background checks for gun purchases. In effect, this would eliminate the “gun show loophole,” which allows people to purchase any firearm they want at a gun show with no background check whatsoever. Of course, the bill to expand background checks for firearms purchases never even made it out of the Senate, but that’s because of the unusually strong lobbying power of the NRA. In this particular case, the NRA and its president Wayne LaPierre went against the position of its own members.
Simultaneously, while Americans were pushing for more difficult access to guns, sales of guns reached record levels in the year following the Newtown shooting. Sturm Ruger’s sales jumped 44% to $506.4 million in the first three quarters of 2013 from $350 million the same period a year ago. The stock price also appreciated about 37.5% in value in 2013.
Smith & Wesson’s stock appreciated 58% over the 2013 calendar year. They also saw a 70% increase in profit for the first three quarters of 2013 compared to same period in 2012.
So at the same time that the American public was clamoring for more gun control, they were purchasing more guns. Americans want it to be more difficult to buy guns, but they want to feel more secure from the madness of the world, and clearly, the NRA, gun manufacturer and other players who stand to make money from increased gun sales have done their job to convince Americans that they need to buy more guns to be safe. Even though paranoia about safety drives gun sales, there may indeed be other factors at play as well.
More Legislation, More Guns
Another possible contributing element to the rise of gun sales is the fear that new legislation will be passed. When people hear about gun control efforts on a federal level, they tend to buy more guns.
The most poignant example in somewhat recent history is the Glock pistol. Paul Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, explains that the sale of Glock pistols increased dramatically in the 1980’s when Congress moved to restrict the sale of Glock pistols. It unintentionally gave a lot of publicity to what was a relatively unknown gun when it was first released in the 1980’s.
The same can be seen when legislation was passed to restrict assault rifle sales. There was a lot of publicity surrounding the 1994 legislation signed into law by President Clinton. The legislation that passed was poorly worded and ultimately failed to reduce sales, and as a result, more assault rifles were actually sold after the bill was passed. Barrett believes that the unnecessary publicity combined with the poorly worded legislation spurred a huge growth in the sale of assault rifles.
After the Newtown shooting in which the murderer used the AR-15 Assault Rifle, sales of that very same assault rifle skyrocketed. President Obama had just called for stricter gun control and many believed that an assault rifle ban was in the works. Couple that with terrified civilians that felt the need to arm themselves from these kinds of events, and assault rifle sales started booming.
The Case For Being Quiet?
The overall trend seems to be that talking about guns sparks gun sales. Whether it’s talking about mass shootings (which drives people to purchase guns for safety assurances) or gun control (which drives people to buy guns now because they think they might not be able to get them in the future), it appears that both have the unintended consequence of increased gun sales. While this is incredibly disheartening to many Americans who would like to see fewer guns on the streets, it’s great news for the gun manufacturers and retailers.
So it appears that while we toil away in the debate over how to prevent mass shootings and reduce the number of firearm homicides (of which we have about 10,000 per year), gun companies get free publicity and continue to unload their merchandise while collecting profits galore. And it doesn’t seem like there’s any way to avoid it.
Mass shootings spark the civilian outrage and media coverage necessary to have even the slightest possibility of passing gun control legislation through Washington. Unfortunately, they also spark mass hysteria among civilians who flock to the nearest gun store to buy up all the weapons they can in the name of “protection,” or because they fear that even the slightest, most insignificant piece of legislation will result in the apocalyptic abolishment of the second amendment and the end of gun rights for all Americans.
But while NRA members and strong supporters of gun rights will continue to purchase guns no matter what, a break in this cycle may be on the horizon. According to an AP poll released in January 2013, a month after the shooting, 58% of Americans want stricter gun laws.. If that’s the case, then those who fight for gun control must resist the urge to go out and buy a gun when they see a mass shooting. Ultimately, when gun control advocates purchase guns, they’re giving money and power to gun companies whose beliefs run completely contrary to theirs. Stop purchasing weapons and realize that you don’t need a gun to be safe.