A little piece I wrote the other day on an interesting proposal to amend the Second Amendment demonstrated, once again, the symbolic and ideological power of firearms in America. Website traffic and reader comments spiked, largely because of people who don’t want anyone monkeying around with the Second Amendment or curtailing their access to firearms.
Cultural and political ideas explain a lot of the passion surrounding the gun issue. All that emotion, it’s important to remember, also translates into dollars-and-cents activity. One measure of the obstacle to tougher gun-control laws is the boom in gun sales. Consider: An astounding 8.57 million guns were manufactured in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That total is up 31 percent from 6.54 million firearms produced in 2011.
And it’s not as if we’re an underarmed populace scrambling to catch up: Americans already own something in the neighborhood of 300 million guns, not counting police and military weapons.
My Bloomberg News cousin Del Quentin Wilber did some helpful math when the BATFE released its gun-sale stats a few days ago: “Almost as many guns—26.1 million—were produced during Democrat Barack Obama’s first term as president as during the entire eight-year presidency of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.” Bloomberg Businessweek readers know, of course, that the “Obama surge” in firearm and ammunition sales reflects consumer anxiety that the Democratic president yearns to tighten gun control laws. The National Rifle Association never misses an opportunity to underscore that point—a form of fear marketing much appreciated by the NRA’s friends in the gun and ammunition industry.
The paradox entertains gun guys and gals to no end. “Barack Obama is the stimulus package for the firearms industry,” Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Mag, a print and online publication of the 2nd Amendment Foundation, a gun-ownership rights group, told Bloomberg News. “The greatest irony of the Obama administration is that the one industry that he may not have really liked to see healthy has become the healthiest industry in the United States.”
On that last point, though, Workman may want to go back for some fresh data. Savvy industry observers, when speaking privately and therefore candidly, tell me that torrid sales during Obama’s first term portend an inevitable leveling off during his second four years. After all, with only a minority of American households reporting to pollsters that they have one or more firearms, how many weapons are the Second Amendment enthusiasts willing to buy? The venerable concept of supply and demand suggests that at some point the consumer market will hit a point of satiation.
Then again, the gun business is unique: It’s the only industry with a constitutional amendment all to itself. In recent years that advantage has been good to Sturm, Ruger (RGR), Smith & Wesson (SWHC), Glock, and their rivals.