As gun sales surged in early 2009 the going joke among employees of gun manufacturers was that President Barack Obama was the “greatest gun salesman of all time.” The trouble with this backhanded complement, however, is Left-leaning news outlets have since used it to avoid something that really scares them.
As ABC put it, Americans are buying more Glocks and Berettas simply because they fear “a second Obama administration might restrict gun ownership.” Their reporting conveniently stops right there.
Before getting into why, I should note they’re partly right. For example, in December 2011 there was a record number of background checks (1,410,937) called into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) this was an increase of 24.5 percent over December 2010. (For those who don’t know, NICS was started in late 1998 to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to purchase firearms or explosives. Not every NICS check results in a sale. A small percentage of people are denied for various reasons (keeping criminals from buying firearms is why we have this system), some simply decide not to purchase the gun and so on. So NICS checks statistics are like exit-poll data, they’re a pretty good indicator, but have margins of error.)
Now though the December 2011 number was a record there were actually slightly less, but still over 1.5 million NICS checks, in November of 2011. The only other November to break 1.5 million NICS checks was November of 2008—when President Obama won the presidency.
But the thing is the surge is gun sales didn’t begin in 2008. Over the last 10 years (from 2002 to 2011) there has been a 54.1 percent rise in the number of NICS checks and the increase hasn’t all taken place since 2008. In 2005 there were 8,952,945 NICS checks. In 2006 the number topped 10 million. In 2007 NICS checks pushed passed 11 million. In 2008 NICS checks passed 12 million, and then hit the 14 million mark in 2009. They increased slightly (4 percent) through 2011.
So attributing this entire trend to President Obama’s anti-gun reputation is disingenuous, yet many in the media like this explanation because by saying the increase in gun sales is only about President Obama they can then write the whole thing off as a simple-minded fear from those who “cling to guns and religion.”
To understand what’s really going on, let’s start with some sales figures.
Last January Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), told me, “The $4.1 billion shooting industry has been growing in an otherwise anemic economy. We’re grateful and proud that our industry has helped maintain jobs from the manufacturer through retail levels during these difficult economic times.”
He had good reason to be pleased. In general, firearms manufacturers have been beating the downturn. In one example, last March Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. (which trades on the New York Stock Exchange as “RGR”) completed the fourth and final quarter of its “1.2 Million Gun Challenge to Benefit the NRA.” During this yearlong challenge, Ruger donated a total of $1,254,000 to the NRA as it built and shipped more than one million firearms.
Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. (NASDAQ: SWHC) saw its fiscal year sales surge 20 percent in 2012. Many makers of handguns and “black guns” (what the Left calls “assault rifles” but the NSSF calls “modern sporting rifles”) also did very well. For example, the number of U.S. semi-automatic pistols produced (imported and exported) was in the 900,000-range from 1998 to 2000, but then fell to a low of 626,836 in 2001. Since then, this category has risen nearly every year. In 2009, some 1,868,268 pistols were imported or exported by U.S. manufacturers, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) data.
So why did overall gun sales begin going up well before President Obama was elected? The answer is in the way American’s view guns. In 1959 some 60 percent of the American public favored handgun bans, according to Gallup, whereas today 73 percent oppose such bans and only 26 percent want bans on handguns.
Other Gallup polls are even more interesting. The number of women gun owners in America has gone up from 13 percent in 2005 to 23 percent today. Also, the number of Democratic households with firearms in their homes skyrocketed from 30 percent in 2009 to 40 percent today.
What has been happening is that the NRA, the NSSF and other gun-rights groups have been busy fighting for Second Amendment rights, advocating for participation in the shooting sports, instructing people how to shoot and store firearms safely, working with police officers and the military and doing a myriad of other things. The NRA has also been lobbying, defending the Second Amendment in courtrooms all over the country and growing its membership. As a result, they’ve attracted more Americans to the shooting sports, made the shooting sports safer and helped more people learn to shoot and to defend themselves.
You can see this reflected in the number of concealed-carry permits. From the mid-1980s to today America has become a mostly “shall-issue” nation with regards to concealed-carry permits. (Shall-issue laws typically prevent local governments from arbitrarily refusing to give permits.) Today 41 states have right-to-carry laws and 38 states have “shall-issue” laws. In fact, a total of 49 states have laws that, to varying degrees, solidify citizens’ right to carry certain concealed firearms in public, either without a permit or after obtaining a permit. Only Illinois is without such a provision.
To visualize what a big change this has been, simply log on to Wikipedia. Now Wikipedia can’t always be trusted as a fact-based source, but search under the entry “concealed carry in the U.S.” and you’ll find a color-coded map of the U.S. changing year-by-year from 1986 to today. Over those years the color changes show the spread of shall-issue laws. Nationally, the NSSF estimates there are 6.8 million concealed-carry holders today. This is up from about one million in the mid-1980s.
All of this pro-gun legislation has not only added to freedom, personal protection and a whole lot of fun at ranges across America, but has also grown the numbers of gun owners and increased the sales of firearms.
Now The History Channel’s “Top Shots” and Discovery Channel’s “Sons of Guns” are showcasing how much fun the shooting sports can be.
The Boy Scouts of America reported that the number of “shotgun shooting” merit badges increased 27.8 percent from 1999 to 2010. The NSSF’s “female-participation” statistics in the shooting sports show that from 2002 to 2010 an estimated 30.2 percent more women are now shooting shotguns. The number of hunters actually increased nationally by 9 percent from 2006 to 2011 according to a preliminary report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And active-shooting sports, such as 3-Gun and sporting clays, have taken off.
There are many other categories and statistics showing the tidal shift in gun ownership beneath this current wave of sales, all of which are related to legislative successes that freed up Second Amendment rights, judicial victories and a popular shift in the way American’s view guns. With all of this going on it’s a shame so many in the media are ignoring or cynically simplifying the movement behind gun sales. It’s just more convenient for them to say the surge in gun sales is only about fear of new gun-control legislation.
Though I don’t want to discount the fear. After all, when the Supreme Court twice comes within one vote of ruling that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights isn’t an individual right, Americans have a right to be concerned. When an incumbent president seeking a second term has already put two people on the nine-member Supreme Court who would vote away this basic human freedom, they have the right to be fearful. And when you realize that, if reelected, that incumbent president would have a good chance of getting a few more Supreme Court picks, and so could reshape the high court for decades, people have a right to be motivated to buy firearms now.