Photographer: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Contradictions

Buoyant Gun Industry Sees Enemies Everywhere

As sales climb, firearm makers gather in Las Vegas for warnings about an "Obama surge" and the "Hillary machine."

The gun industry is struggling with good times. Firearm sales are soaring. Gun company stocks are way up, despite a market-wide January slump. But as gun makers, wholesalers, and retailers gather in Las Vegas for their annual industry convention, leading executives are striving to accentuate the negative.

“Our industry is being blamed and attacked and pilloried unfairly by politicians, media, and agenda-driven social engineers,” Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the main gun business trade group, said on Tuesday night in his annual “state of the industry” address to a large and supportive audience.

QuickTake Guns in America

Why the disconnect—intense self-pity during a period of good fortune? The contradiction lies at the heart of a business that thrives on playing defense.

The perceived threat of stiffer gun control laws historically drives buyers to the stores to stock up on firearms and ammunition. There was much talk yesterday at the Shooting, Hunting & Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show about the continuing “Obama surge.” The phrase refers to a rise in sales tied to the perception that the president will implement tougher gun regulation, even though that hasn't come to pass. Changes he proposed earlier this month following another year of gun massacres flesh out existing laws—and only at the margins. By keeping the focus on the potential for more aggressive gun control, the NSSF, like its sister organization, the better-known National Rifle Association, stokes fear that results in higher revenue.

The gun industry profits from a related contradiction: While overall violent crime has been decreasing in the U.S. for decades, fear of crime also helps boost firearm and ammo sales.

“After over eight solid years of record numbers of good people from diverse backgrounds flocking to our industry to become new firearm owners, while crime with firearms and firearm accidents plunged by double digits to historic 44-year lows, our nation has unfortunately seen a spike in violence in a number of our cities, and a rise in fear of highly publicized crimes,” Sanetti said in his speech.

Without referring to candidates by name, Sanetti signaled that his industry needs to rally behind whomever the Republican Party nominates for president this year. In an earlier speech, Robert Scott, co-vice chairman of gun maker Smith & Wesson, named names. He compared President Barack Obama to “a petulant child” and warned of the “Hillary machine,” a reference to Hillary Clinton. “Enforce the laws we have," Scott added. "I don't think we need new ones.”

And, he might have added, don't forget to be afraid—very afraid.

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