WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has presided over a heyday for the gun industry despite predictions by the National Rifle Association four years ago that he would be the "most anti-gun president in American history." The president hasn't pressed such an agenda, but gun owners still are afraid that, if re-elected, an Obama who wouldn't have to face voters again would try to restrict firearms purchases.
An analysis by The Associated Press of data tracking the health of the gun industry shows that sales are on the rise, so much so that some gun manufacturers can't make enough weapons fast enough. Major gun company stock prices are up. The number of federally licensed, retail gun dealers is increasing for the first time in nearly 20 years. The NRA is bursting with cash and political clout. And Congress and the administration have expressed little interest in passing new gun laws, despite renewed calls to do so after deadly shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin.
The poor economy, fear of crime and military veterans returning from war who want to keep their shooting skills sharp also may be driving some gun sales. But the general view of analysts and those in the industry is that Obama is the main catalyst.
"The driver is President Obama. He's the best thing that ever happened to the firearm industry," said Jim Barrett, an industry analyst at C.L. King & Associates Inc. in New York.
That despite the fact that Obama has made no promises to impose new gun control legislation and doesn't have the support in Congress or among voters even if he did. During this week's presidential debate Obama suggested renewing a ban on assault-style weapons and coming up with an overall strategy to reduce violence, but both the president and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, said the government needs to enforce gun laws already on the books.
Tennessee lawyer Brian Manookian said he never considered himself a gun enthusiast like others in his state. He owns only one handgun. But the firearms industry has proved so lucrative for him that he's enthusiastic now. Manookian and his business partner, Gary Semanchik, opened a $5 million firearms retail and training complex in September in Nashville.
Inventory is selling three to four times faster than they expected since the facility opened.
"It is a very strong investment," Manookian said.
Others agree. For the first time since 1993, the number of federally licensed retail gun dealers in the U.S. increased slightly in 2010 and 2011, as the country added 1,167 more licensed retail gun dealers, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives records. After the assault weapons ban in 1994, the number of gun dealerships dropped annually until 2010. As of October 2012, there were 50,812 retail gun dealers — that's 3,303 more than in 2009.
"Business has been very good," said Frederick Prehn, who a year ago opened a small gun store above his dentistry practice in Wausau, Wis. In the past year, Prehn has relocated twice to larger spaces and gone from one employee to eight.
Some gun store owners can't keep shelves stocked, said Brian Jones, owner of Bullseye Shooter's supply in Painted Post, N.Y. Jones said he opened his gun store in November 2010. In his first year, Jones said he sold between 600 and 700 guns. A little more than halfway through his second year, he's already sold 700.
For the first time in the company's history, Sturm Ruger & Co. Inc. stopped taking orders for a couple months this year. Ruger, one of the nation's largest gun manufacturers, has since resumed taking orders, though gun-sellers say demand is still outpacing production.