How Patents Tell the Tale of the Booming U.S. Gun Market

Here’s my favorite gun-nerd dispatch in quite a while, courtesy of the eagle-eye intellectual-property mavens at Bloomberg News:

“Gunmakers such as Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. and Sturm, Ruger & Co. are boosting firearms sales by building weapons that are more accurate and easier to use, with gun-related U.S. patents at a 35-year high.

“Demand is growing as more states allow people to carry concealed weapons and lawmakers discuss limiting sales after mass shootings at public venues like schools and movie theaters. Ownership is rising among women and the elderly. Manufacturers are competing for sales with improvements such as magazines that increase a bullet’s accuracy or are lower in cost. Of 6,077 patents issued since 1977 in the firearms class, 19 percent were in the past four years, with a record 370 issued last year, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.”

Gun-control advocates often marvel and/or cringe at what they see as the National Rifle Association’s ability to promote wider gun ownership even in the face of atrocities such as the 2012 Newtown (Conn.) elementary school massacre. Surely the NRA is a political powerhouse worthy of study. Equally important in understanding American gun culture, though, is the underlying, undying devotion to firearms felt by a significant minority of the population.

To many Americans, firearms represent individualism, self-reliance, and technical accomplishment. Constant tinkering, as reflected by the surge in gun-related patents, underscores the last of these.

More from Bloomberg News’s fascinating report:

“‘There’s money to be made and everybody wants to protect their moneymaker,’ said Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt Guns in CharlotteNorth Carolina, which has been in business for more than 50 years and carries more than 7,000 guns. ‘There is a huge amount of technology going into these products.’ Recent innovations include patents issued for voice-command shooting, rifle scopes and a new trigger system. Not all are for the weapons themselves: There’s a gun rest that could attach to a hunter’s leg and a pistol holder for next to the bed. The rise in patents has brought on litigation, with at least eight lawsuits filed since the start of 2013.

By many measures, U.S. firearm sales are growing. Background checks, conducted every time a buyer attempts to purchase one or more firearms, surged 54 percent from 2008 to 2012, with a record 19.6 million checks completed in 2012, according to Federal Bureau of Investigation data.

“Sturm Ruger, of Southport, Connecticut, the largest publicly traded U.S. gun maker, reported a 45 percent jump in third-quarter sales this year due to high demand for new firearms, including the LC380 pistol, the SR45 pistol and the Ruger American Rimfire rifle. New owners were helping to drive sales, Chief Executive Officer Michael Fifer said in a conference call with analysts Nov. 6.

“Smith & Wesson reported record sales of $588 million for the fiscal year ending April 30, up 43 percent over 2012, according to a June press release. President James Debney credited “innovative new products” and ‘robust consumer demand.’”

While many Americans are deciding which smartphones to buy for their loved ones this holiday season, many of their neighbors are comparing the latest pistols and hunting rifles.

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