Gun industry thrives during Obama's term in office

By Jack Gillum

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Oct. 19 2012 1:36 a.m. MDT

Obama is not yet through his first term, but the federal government already has conducted about as many background checks for gun owners and prospective buyers on his watch as it did during the first six years of George W. Bush's presidency. In the first 3 1/2 years of the Bush administration, the FBI conducted about 28 million background checks. During the same period of the Obama administration, the FBI conducted more than 50 million. The gun industry uses the number of background checks on gun owners as a reliable indicator of demand.

Ruger and Smith & Wesson represent nearly 30 percent of the U.S. gun manufacturing industry and lead the market in production of pistols and revolvers, according to government statistics. The two companies have been running production lines around the clock, hiring workers and operating at maximum capacity, said Barrett, an industry analyst who also owns Ruger stock.

Ruger's sales have increased 86 percent since Obama took office, and Smith & Wesson's sales have gone up nearly 44 percent, compared with 18 percent for overall national retail sales.

And the companies have big expectations for the industry's future, as they're spending more money on research and development than ever before.

"Wouldn't you want to be in a business where customers are just begging to hand you money?" said Bill Bernstein, owner of East Side Gun Shop in Nashville, Tenn.

The NRA itself has done well, too. The lobbying organization has had more cash on hand during the Obama years than it did since 2004, finishing 2010 with more than $24 million, according to the most recent figures available.

"Which makes it incredibly ironic that the gun lobby is opposing Obama," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Gross said Obama, who initially campaigned to reinstate the assault weapons ban that expired under Bush, has done what he said was "disappointingly little" on gun control.

But the gun lobby says the success of the industry does not indicate that Obama is good for Second Amendment rights.

"This is the most dangerous election in our lifetimes," NRA chief executive officer Wayne LaPierre said in February, a point he's made regularly during the NRA's campaign to defeat Obama.

The NRA stands by its 2008 predictions that Obama would be anti-gun. NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam noted Obama's appointment of two Supreme Court justices whom the NRA considers anti-gun, plus Obama's support of a United Nations arms trade treaty and the botched gun-walking operation called Fast and Furious, which the NRA believes was concocted as part of a plan to enforce new gun restrictions.

"Gun owners and hunters fear that a second Obama administration with no future political campaigns to worry about will try to destroy this great American freedom," Arulanandam said.

It is hard to find a single aspect of the gun world that isn't thriving.

Fears of a Democratic president taking office and issuing stricter gun control laws led to an initial spike in gun sales in 2008, giving gun dealers some of the highest profit margins they've ever seen. But even after it became clear Obama was not going to make gun control a priority as president, the industry has continued to do well.

Fears of crime may be driving some sales. The number of violent crimes rose by 18 percent in the U.S. in 2011, according to Justice Department figures released this week. It was the first year-to-year increase for violent crime since 1993, marking the end of a long string of declines.

Firearms sales typically increase during poor economic times, said Steve Sanetti, chief executive officer and president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the industry. More Americans are hunting and shooting for recreation as well, he said. Sanetti attributes that to military servicemen and women with firearms experience returning to civilian life and wanting to keep up with shooting as a pastime. He also said recreational shooting is a relatively cheap and accessible hobby, drawing in new buyers.

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